- Movie Rating -

North Dallas Forty (1979)

| August 3, 1979

Nineteen Seventy-Nine seems to have been the year of the post-Rocky sports movie.  Stallone’s great film inspired dozens of filmmakers to change the template of the common come-from-behind underdog story and by that principle we got a gaggle of sports movies, all with the same ambition, but none with the same heart.  We got movies about basketball, Olympic sprinting, tennis, bowling, boxing and professional bike racing.  All had the ambition to be Rocky but only one came out on top as an uncommonly intelligent examination of the people who play the game.

North Dallas Forty is a movie about professional football and the men who play it.  What happens to a player’s body over time?  What happens to them psychologically?  What comes of such a brutal sport in the onset of age?  Those are questions at the heart of this movie which stars Nick Nolte as Phil Elliott, the wide-receiver for the North Dallas Bulls.  Phil is not as young as he used to be and his body constantly reminds him of this.  He’s a functional player in that he is reliable at catches that equal victories and hangs on to this buddy, a good ‘ole boy quarter back named Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis).

On the field, Phil is a necessity to the team.  Behind closed doors, however, he often clashes with Coach Strothers (played by the invaluable G.D. Spradlin) who demands a level of fierce loyalty and discipline in his players.  For reasons of pride, Phil can’t seem to leave the game of football despite his injuries but he is realistic about the day when he will have to hang it up, and he’s helped along by his girlfriend Charlotte (Dayle Haddon).

What is so interesting about this movie is that it isn’t so much about the game of football but the reality of those who have to play it.  Phil is not the brightest man in the world but he sees that life is passing him by and understands the pressure that he’s under, especially from the team’s owner (Steve Forrest) who cares less for the players than getting a victory on the field.

The pressure release for Phil and for Seth is seen in their off-the-field activities, wild parties which are used to release the pressure.  At home, the melancholy sets in maybe their best years are behind them and what do they have to show for it?  Furthermore, what has their beloved profession become?  The pressures of winning extend also to the money men, the managers whose lust for power and money has overtaken the values of good sportsmanship and teamwork.

I describe the film like a plot synopsis and there is a reason for that.  This is a movie that you want to talk about.  I was totally absorbed in this story, in the lives of these men and how the movie didn’t cheapen their experience by giving them an easy out.  I liked its portrait of men of a certain age who aren’t just overgrown children but complex adults with values and questions and self-examination.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized