The Games (1970)
The Games is the story of four marathon runners and their preparations for the Olympics. Harry Hayes (Michael Crawford) is a British runner with a highly demanding coach (Stanley Baker). US athlete Scott Reynolds (Ryan O’Neal) is reaching the end of his career and continues to run, even though it might kill him. Czechoslovakian world record holder Pavel Vendik (Charles Aznevour) is “encouraged” out of retirement to competes for the glory of his country, and then there’s Aboriginal Australian runner Sunny Pintubi (Athol Compton) who competes as a way of escaping his life of poverty and racial oppression. All come under media scrutiny and must confront their own demons before competing in the race that will possibly define their life.
X is an extremely interesting snapshot of the world of international sport during the early seventies. It is a fast paced, tightly edited movie (like many of Michael Winners movies) and features many international locations. The cast is eclectic but strong and the dialogue tight and to the point. It is a revelation to see Michael Crawford, best known in the UK for his seventies comedy hijinks, playing against such internationals stars as Ryan O’Neal and Stanley Baker. It was also the first time I’d seen Sam Elliot before he was grey and grizzled. Winner gets the most from his location shooting and creates a genuine feel for what it is life to actually participate in such an Olympic event. Although many of the characters are not particularly sympathetic there is a compelling quality to their respective stories and subsequent fate.
Michael Winner is not the first name you think of when considering a movie about sport, but his style compliments the subject matter. The Games manages to take what is essentially a not particularly interesting spectator sport and it into an intriguing and somewhat sleazy drama. The first two acts focus on the respective characters and their own personal challenges. As the main event draws near we see the financial and political pressure that comes to bear on each of them and how they each deal with it. The last act of the movie depicts the marathon through Rome as the gruelling endurance test that it is. Yet the editing and pacing build a strong sense of drama as to who will win the race. The depiction of drug abuse, along with the unbridled egos of some of the athletes still rings true today. As does the insidious influence of big business and corporate sponsorship.
Curiously enough the print of The Games that I recently watched sported the original BBFC rating which was curiously a U certificate. I do not think the movie would be so fortunate today. The use of habit forming performance enhancing drugs, the casual sexual undercurrent as well as depictions of institutional racism would possibly attract a higher rating. However, all of these themes are explored cogently. The depiction of aboriginal runner Sunny Pintubi (Athol Compton) was particularly good and was in some way the most interesting character in the movie. The way he turns the tables on those who seek to exploit him is suitably satisfying. Overall, The Games is an accurate assessment of the state on international athletics at the time, reflecting the political propaganda wars of the East and West. It also portrays the hubris of US sports from the era, as well as the blinkered and misplaced notion of English exceptionalism that still remained among some UK athletes.