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I had never heard of this movie but I bought it because it's sports related and the DVD only cost $1! And as a bonus, one of its stars is John Ireland, who has a supporting role in one of my favorite movies of all time, 1976's "The Swiss Conspiracy." I bought the latter movie last year, also from a cheapie bin, and had yet to see Ireland in anything else.
Ireland stars in "The Basketball Fix" as Pete Ferreday, a sports writer for a local newspaper. Ferreday narrates the movie as if it's one of his articles. It tells the story of Johnny Long (played by Marshall Thompson), a basketball star for a nearby college known simply as "State." As a freshman, Long becomes an instant star and after an early season win is visited by big time gambler Mike Taft (William Bishop). Mike says he's just won a lot of money in a bet because of Johnny's great play and gives Johnny an envelope containing a large sum of cash
a portion of what Taft has just won. Johnny is determined to be
ethical and refuses the money.
But soon reality catches up with him. His father is physically unable to work and Johnny dreads the thought of his younger brother Mickey (Bobby Hyatt) not getting any Christmas gifts. And he desires to marry his girlfriend, Pat Judd (Vanessa Brown), and give her a good life.
So he decides to turn to Taft as a solution to his financial problems. In the process, he learns that, to his surprise, his senior teammate Jed Black (John Sands) has been regularly fixing games for Taft - not to lose them but only to make sure that his team fails to cover the spread. Unfortunately, the concept of the spread isn't explained in this movie quite as explicitly as it should have been. For those not familiar with it I'll say that it's the number of points by which a particular team is expected to win or lose. Many bets are placed around that figure.
Johnny rationalizes his decision to shave points on the basis that his team will still win and that the margin of victory isn't important. He makes a lot of money very quickly but he soon realizes that he's in over his head. He arouses suspicion by buying Pat a $1,000 ring, leading the jewelry store workers to wonder where a college basketball player gets that much money. And when his conscience gets the best of him and he decides he wants to stop fixing games, that doesn't go over well with Taft and Taft's associates.
Although the script of "The Basketball Fix" has a few weak spots - including State hosting the national championship game, which in real life has always been played at a pre-determined site - the movie is still very powerful. The story is hard hitting and heart breaking and the performances are excellent, though it's a bit of a stretch for Johnny to be played by a man who was 25 at the time of the movie's release. And while at 65 minutes it probably couldn't pass as a theatrical movie these days, it makes every minute count well. It never drags at all.
The greatest asset of "The Basketball Fix" is its portrayal of the age old conflict between conscience and money. Even before Johnny's scandal, Ferreday was critical of the exploitive mentality of major college athletics - players, many of whom are from financially struggling families, generate big money for their schools but get none of it. Of course, the players do get a free college education, which is of great value, but that doesn't pay the bills at the time. No wonder some kids - even good kids - fall prey to the Tafts of the world. This theme was also addressed very strongly 43 years later in "Blue Clips."
In many ways, college basketball has changed dramatically in the 55 years since the release of "The Basketball Fix." Sheer athleticism and brute force have been largely replaced fundamentals. Racial integration has taken place. Media coverage and revenue have skyrocketed. Many schools have abandoned academic standards. Uniforms are flashier. Tattoos have become the norm. Yet the core message of this movie remains as relevant today as it was back in 1951. Despite many more real life scandals like the one portrayed in this movie, the NCAA's archaic rules mostly remain in tact.
And on a technical note, the DVD is of very good quality for an obscure black-and-white 1951 movie. The DVD's audio and visual are slightly out of sync but other than that, it contains no major glitches. 8/10 (The rating is based solely on the movie; not the DVD quality.)
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