What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Great Villians Blog-A-Thon, which is graciously being hosted by three outstanding blogs Shadows and Satin, Speakeasy, and Silver Screenings. Be sure to check them out, as well as all the tremendous blogs featured in our blogroll.
You can see all the participants in this event here:
First, allow me to do a a wee bit of house-keeping. This is the second Robert Aldrich film I’ve done as part of this series, “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” was a contribution to a recent event honoring Joan Crawford. On top of that, Burt Reynolds’ character in this movie (Paul Crewe) was included in a list of fictional quarterbacks I admonished Minnesota Vikings fans would be a better fit for them than Brett Favre would ever be.
More importantly, this is not the first installment in this series based around a prison. Recently for a Michael Caine blog-a-thon, I covered the 1981 film “Victory.” But it was my very first blog-a-thon which will come into play again in this piece; were going to come full-circle to 1953’s “Stalag 17.”
Starting with the story of “The Longest Yard,” I’m going to keep this part fairly short for reasons which will become apparent. Paul Crewe is a disgraced pro quarterback who was run out of the league for rigging games for gamblers. He ends up in the slammer for stealing his girlfriend’s car and taking the cops on a high-speed chase before he rinsed it in a river. The prison warden Rudolph Hazen (played by Eddie Albert) runs a semi-pro football team comprised of the guards, and he wants Crewe to be a coach. Crewe refuses, but eventually agrees to form a team of prisoners to play the guards in an exhibition game.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The reason why I’m keeping the first part short is because this installment is really a bit backwards; it’s really a movie analogy hidden in a sports story. One can look at “The Longest Yard” in a few different ways. It is easy to see this movie as a simple sports story; standard “good guys vs. bad guys” stuff. From there, one can get into all sorts of “artsy-fartsy, film-as-lit” crap about who the bad guys really are. Either way works here, because the reason I picked this movie for a “Villains” blog-a-thon is rather simple. Warden Rudolph Hazen doesn’t get the credit he’s due as “bad guy” despite the fact he shares three crucial traits with another prison warden…one who just so happens to be one of the great villains of all time; Colonel von Scherbach from “Stalag 17.”
1) Both von Scherbach and Hazen are angry because they had higher aspirations
The descendant of Prussian aristocracy, von Scherbach suffered the indignity of being relegated to the back-water of World War II guarding prisoners. The story of “Stalag 17” leaves the viewer with the impression von Scherbach’s family was disgraced at some point, thus the Colonel’s loss of status in the German army. In turn, he believes that maintaining a spotless record for allowing no escapes from his camp will restore him to favor; to that end, there is very little he will not do.
An in-depth character study of Warden Hazen is not necessary; it takes no time at all to see he fancies himself a legendary football figure akin to Paul “Bear” Bryant or Vince Lombardi. This becomes brutally evident in the scene where Hazen asks Crewe “How do you think we would do against the pros?” His obvious displeasure at Crewe’s answer is simply priceless…and telling of what a delusional asshole Hazen is.
2) Both von Scherbach and Hazen are sadists
Granted, von Scherbach is more of an artisté; he paints his sadism with the light strokes of sleep-deprivation, solitary confinement, and the occasional de-lousing with ice-water from the wells. But that isn’t to say he isn’t beyond the sheer barbarity of mowing down escapees with a belt-fed machine gun. In contrast, Hazen was a Tintoretto of bold, medieval hammer-blows as evidenced when he orders his team to “inflict as much physical punishment on the prisoners as humanly possible.”
2) Both von Scherbach and Hazen suffer at the hands of their own obsession
To make a long story short, both von Scherbach and Hazen didn’t keep their eyes on the proverbial ball; they both lost sight of what their roles really were. In von Scherbach’s case, he becomes so fixated on finding the “escaped” saboteur that not only does he threaten to tear his very own camp apart board by board, he completely misses the fact the prisoners are well-organized and capable of sophisticated operations conducted under his very nose. As a result, his goal of having never had a prisoner escape literally goes up in smoke.
Hazen’s obsession is far more sinister. Once he decides to use the football against the prisoners as a show of force, he forgets completely about the importance of winning the game…which he has taken for granted. Even when he finds himself making a halftime deal with Crewe to secure said victory, it never occurs to him that a) his team can be beaten, b) he’s left himself open to being double-crossed, and c) he’s making an “all-or-nothing” bet with his “power theory.”
The Moral of The Story:
Keep your eye on the ball…especially if it’s the game ball.
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