North Dallas Forty

Non-stop, man
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Ted Kotcheff
Starring: 
Nick Nolte, Mac Davis, Charles Durning, Dabney Coleman, John Matuszak
The Setup: 
The harsh world of 70s pro football, in which guys’ bodies are abused for big money.
Discussion: 

So I was a little listless with the movies that have been coming in, good and bad, sure, but it was all getting a little rote, and so I thought the time was right for one of those 70s football dramas that might feature deep characterization, subtext, sensitive direction—and lots of hunky 70s guys. The guys it has, in spades.

We open with Nick Nolte as Phil Elliott waking in bed. He finds his body killing him, and remembers all the injuries he sustained the night before, on the football field. If the sight of a mustachioed Nick Nolte in his prime stumbling around his apartment in his underwear, groaning in pain, has its appeal to you—just wait for the rest of the movie.

Nick stumbles into the bath, where he smokes a doob. His friends from the team break through his glass door and shoot a shotgun at his ceiling, which would not endear them to me, and Phil seems a bit peeved about it as well. They demand that he go hunting with them, which really just means driving through the wilderness with beers and shooting their shotguns recklessly. These really are total yahoos, although Phil is clearly the sensitive one. Also present is Mac Davis as Seth, and Bo Svenson as Joe Bob, head redneck idiot. Seth tells Phil, who has been benched for six years, that if he wants to play the game he needs to learn to “play the game,” and if not, he’ll soon be washed up.

We then go to a big party for pro football players, where the first sight we are greeted with is a bearded 70s dude thrusting his hips repeatedly as he dances. Phil continues all moody, and declines the opportunity to visit this couple who promise a nice evening of dinner and scripture-reading. Oh, I totally would, it sounds like a blast, but I’ve got a painful bunion. We now witness a HOT blond with a mustache and a tight western shirt, open to his waist, dancing and then getting into a fight. Was this movie produced by Brush Creek Media? Consider the cruel irony that I was but a sprog in the 70s, when I got imprinted with all these macho types, and reached maturity during the age when they had all died out and when men aspire to look like Ashlee Simpson. CRUEL FATE! Anyway, Phil meets Charlotte, a brunette who is in a bit of a snit because all of these goings-on at the party are so low and debasing. She is given evidence of her viewpoint when Joe Bob holds a woman over his head against her will. Charlotte asks Phil why he doesn’t go stop him, and he says it doesn’t pay to get involved in such things, she slings some moral superiority at him and takes off. On her way out, however, Joe Bob spots her and wants to tap that ass. He is quite demanding, forcing Phil to step in, against his will, causing a huge fight. The point is made: these guys expect women’s complete subservience as part of the perks of their job.

Seth, who showcases his prodigious package in tight brown pants, takes Phil out by the pool to talk some more sense into him. He cannot understand why in the world Phil would defend Charlotte, and says they need to keep Joe Bob happy and give him whatever he wants so he’ll play well. Phil leaves and goes over to Charlotte’s house [how did he know where she lives?], where he invites himself in and promptly falls asleep, against her wishes. But she’s impressed by how exhausted and on the brink he is.

The next morning Phil is called to a meeting with the corporate owners of the team, who we see are mostly tied up in oil and agriculture, and maintain the football team as a sideline, i.e. what used to be a noble sport is now an extension of corporate greed! And we’re starting to think, ‘Okay, so we got a little bit of Rollerball in here, awesome!’ The evil corporate manager punches some numbers into a computer and calculates that Phil’s problem is his attitude and immaturity and that he’d better just snap to or he’ll get traded.

Then all of a sudden Phil is sleeping with this woman Joanne, who has nothing but chocolate pudding in her fridge and announces, post-coitus, that he’s marrying another guy on the team and hopes to be able to fool around with Phil on the side. Are you appalled and moved by the moral bankruptcy of this world? I thought so.

Now comes 30 minutes that, if you’re into big hunky 70s football guys engaging in homoerotic banter and horseplay while skimpily attired, will have your mouth hanging open, tongue dangling in the breeze. If you are, I urge you to continue reading the rest of this review AFTER you have already secured a rental or purchase of this DVD, as that must clearly be the priority. The guys go to a review of their last game, where we learn that although Phil made an amazing touchdown, he did it while not following the coach’s direction, and this kind of individuality and spark cannot be tolerated. Another guy is kicked off the team for fumbling on the field. We then have an extended scene in the team’s locker room—‘Nuff said. Please consult the photo below if you are wondering what I’m talking about. Okay, THAT’S what I’m talking about.

So just as you’re thinking, one could not possibly expect more hunky man-flesh from this movie, the guys go in the field to practice in their snug lycra gray shorts, each of which cups and showcases their junk in readily visible packages. Have I somehow passed out and… am I… am I dreaming? Then Phil gets his fingers broken by an incoming football, and hot cowboy shirt jock from before comes to help [kiss it better?], and Phil gets injured some more.

Around this time I have written in my notes: “Frankly unbelievable number of hot bulges.” Then there’s some content about how they’re injecting megadoses of B12 vitamins, which apparently sends them into rages [vita-rage? Better watch that vitamin water intake], then I think Phil’s house is robbed [?], then Phil and Mac don their speedos and jump in the hot tub! Seth gives a speech about dildoes. Then we see the guys working out in their skimpy nylon shorts, using these bizarre exercise machines that work their NECKS. We see one teammate gently caress his friend’s face as they exercise. At this point I have written in my notes: “Non-stop homoeroticism,” and on the next line: “NON-STOP.”

So now we’re building up to the big game. This black guy Delmer tears a ligament while practicing, and they tell Phil that he’s going to be allowed to play, which thrills him, but it’s a mixed victory since he knows the game will be the death of him. We see a pre-game coaching session, where they guys are told “If you think you’re going to lose, you will.” This inspires Joe Bob, who is growing ever more violent, impulsive and dangerous. He picks a fight with another teammate, and we see the team management smiling as the men go at each other. Also in here is some zippy and somewhat inappropriate disco music as the guys practice and fight. God, why can’t I live in 1979?

So it seems that Phil and Charlotte are going to move in together, but she thinks he should quit football because it is killing him, and he doesn’t even want to hear it because he’s “got to keep his mind in the game.”

I’m not going to tell you the thrill packed conclusion, which it may seem like you could guess from what I’ve told you already—and you kind of can, but for a few surprises—except to say that it does contain more sudden disco music, more hand-wringing about how these guys are just being turned into rage machines and callously injured by the MAN, and numerous other opportunities for homoeroticism, including an intriguing moment when Joe Bob and a frequently-shirtless John Matuzak rhythmically bump their fists together while John breathily intones “Let’s go pad up baby, yeah, come on, that's right, let’s do it, baby.”

It is Lifeguard meets Rollerball. Lifeguard because it’s about a sensitive hunk with a mustache who is becoming obsolete and cannot adapt to change, and Rollerball because of the way this corporate group controls this group of athletes and doesn’t care about how they’re used or what happens to them. I was thinking how nowadays movies wringing their hands over noble hunks who can’t move out of their self-defeating roles are kind of obsolete, but I think the replacement now is something like Michael Clayton, in which the hero no longer does anything psychical, but goes into corporate battle through memos and faxes and cell phone calls and subpoenas and suchlike.

In the end, this movie is precisely what you expect it’s going to be, which is fine if, you know, that’s what you want! But it can also lend to a feeling of “Well then why did I actually have to sit through it?” More than a few people on the IMDb say it’s their favorite sports movie, but for me, if there weren’t wall-to-wall hunky dudes, my enthusiasm would be fairly low.

Should you watch it: 

If you’re into sports movies, I suppose this is pretty good. If you’re into hunky 70s dudes is various modes of undress, they don’t get more essential.