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God bless the New Hollywood era of the late 1960's and early 1970's: it seems to be a bottomless well of offbeat (and often criminally overlooked) gems like Frank Perry's PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, Bill Norton's CISCO PIKE, Noel Black's PRETTY POISON -- and even the flawed but still-fascinating THE SPORTING CLUB. This was the first of several films based on the novels of (or screenwritten by) author Thomas McGuane, followed by the wonderful pot-addled western RANCHO DELUXE and the equally-good 92 IN THE SHADE with Peter Fonda and Warren Oates. THE SPORTING CLUB sadly isn't quite as good as these two, but it's still pretty interesting in its own right. The plot revolves around a woodsy retreat for wealthy sportsmen (and women) called The Centennial Club where they gather sporadically to drink heavily and congratulate themselves on being so rich. James Quinn (played by Nicolas Coaster in a fine, understated performance) is a soon-to-be-broke member of this fraternity whose one close connection is with his former college buddy Verner Stanton (Robert Fields), who has a dangerous obsession with dueling pistols, and Verner's girlfriend (Margaret Blye). There are some parallels here with DELIVERANCE (which came a year later): both movies feature heavily-armed businessmen trying to find themselves out in the woods, although SPORTING CLUB is much more satirical. The movie achieves a kind of cock-eyed brilliance when Jack Warden arrives, playing a boozey former bait-shop owner whose been picked as the Club's new groundskeeper. His performance suggests something that's been stewing in grain alcohol for a bit too long and captures the off-center flavor and rhythms of McGuane's writing better than almost anything else in the film. (It also strangely reminds me of Burl Ives's great performance as a grizzled swamp poacher in Nicholas Ray's WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES.) Warden's final anarchic act of payback against the Club members is truly classic. Director Larry Peerce's early 1970's career included some fine dramas such as "Goodbye Columbus," "A Separate Peace" and "Ash Wednesday" and deserves re-appreciation. One of the best sequences here comes early in the film when Fields and his friends hijack and destroy a bus during a Presidential appearance at the local dam; the sight of two wealthy capitalists literally trashing their own Establishment is the kind of contradiction that makes McGuane's writing so memorable. To be honest, the film is far from perfect -- the plot tends to meander too much and lose focus, and if anything, the movie feels a bit too consciously "literary" -- but its definitely worth checking out especially if you're a fan of early 1970's New Hollywood films. Note: although it doesn't seem to be listed on Amazon.com, there is a late 1980's video release of the film on Charter Entertainment so it's available if you can find it.
An obnoxious, bloody, exploitative attempt at social relevancy which sees
group of rich folk traveling to a getaway in northern Michigan. Here all
sick decadence of the group surfaces in the space of a weekend. Orgies,
killings, and other gross happenings are paraded before the camera.
Linda Blair plays the character Barby here, she is only a child but she got the eyes of the an angel and the voice of a goddess. She play the party very well. Nobody would know that this little child will have the part in one legendary horror film named The Exorcist after this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have seen this film only once, in a preview screening in 1971 in L.A.
Nevertheless, it made an impression on me and I have not forgotten it,
although I can't say that the memory is pleasant. I remember it so well
because it was the first film I can recall in which the use of
four-letter words seemed completely unrestrained, and it was directed
by Larry Peerce; it was the follow-up to his 1969 hit "Goodbye,
The nominal protagonist is James, an ordinary guy living an ordinary life. A college friend, Verner, invites him up to the lodge of the sporting club of which he is one of the youngest members. Verner is an angry, troubled young man, obviously deeply wounded by something. Verner is the kind of guy who has two dueling pistols and goads people into mock duels using blanks, which are not deadly but still quite painful at close range. With Verner is his voluptuous girlfriend Janey; when James arrives, Verner tells him to go and introduce himself to Janey, adding, "That's what I do all day." We are treated to cute scenes such as James spying on Janey while she is sunbathing nude, and Verner mooning the local high school from a school bus. This season is a special one at the club; it is the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the club, and the time capsule deposited when the club was founded is to be dug up and opened on the centennial day. All of the members arrive in their Cadillacs, Buicks and limousines. They are the direct descendants of the founders, as club membership is hereditary. They are the quintessence of upper-class respectability, staunch conservatives and straight arrows, but in the privacy of the club, they let go and become petty, bickering, shotgun-toting primitives. The lodge's caretaker is Earl (Jack Warden), who is very shabbily treated, and who is pals with a group of local bikers. Inevitably, the club members come into conflict with the bikers and Earl, who has wound up on the losing end of one of Verner's "duels." The confrontations escalate until eventually the lodge is dynamited and the club members are all tarred and feathered in a colossal act of revenge by the bikers. Nevertheless, the club members regroup and soldier on, gathering at the appointed time to open the time capsule. When the time capsule is opened, the club members are astounded to discover that their "sporting" club began life, back in the 1870s, as a colony of radicals who practiced nudism and free love. (This was presumably supposed to invite reflections on the 1960s and their ramifications.) The club members then cast off their few remaining inhibitions and indulge in an orgy (not a very arousingly filmed one, though). During this, in a scene I don't remember too clearly, Verner gets shot with one of his dueling pistols, but it turns out that this time, the bullets weren't blanks, and he dies, in a scene of disgusting slow-motion hematemesis.
The lead actors were all refugees from TV soap operas. Also appearing were Richard Dysart a decade before L.A. Law, Ralph Waite just before the Waltons and Linda Blair just before The Exorcist. This is an angry, grating, unpleasant, violent, vulgar film that is not even redeemed by being thought-provoking.
This is an odd film. It starts out as what looks like to be two friends and a girl they share going up to a cabin with other "rich, have's" in a place to check out their ancestors time capsule, as the "haves" then crash with the local bikers and the caretaker Jack Warden. When the lead "shoots" Warden wounding him, he and the bikers decides to terrorize the "haves" like tar and feathering them, and you would think it would become an action film, but then it does a complete 180 and becomes a orgy film! Even for that time period, this film couldn't have appealed to hippies, or bikers, or radicals, or even filmgoers of 1971. Perhaps someone could release this on DVD, and have the director and writer do an audio commentary, then it might make sense to all this boredom. The titles theme is very catchy and haunting however, and I am glad I found the soundtrack 17 years ago! Great tune that'll last with you for a long time.
I found this virtually unknown film grossly misplaced in the "horror" section of a video store, and curiosity, coupled with rumors of it being "gory" (not true at all), made me rent it. It was a dreadful mistake, and you should never, never make it yourselves. There is no discernible point or logic to any scene or part of this film, and the characters couldn't be more unengaging. So unwatchable that it's doubtful most viewers will be able to make it all the way to the end. (*)
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