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 2021 Classic Literature On Film Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Silver Screen Classics. By their own words, that’s a blog all about being “From the Silents To Film Noir and everything in between.” This marks the second time Dubsism has contributed to their Classic Literature on Film events, and hopefully it won’t be the last!
The main character of Great Expectations is a orphan named Phillip “Pip” Pirrip (played as a child by Anthony Wager). In the beginning. Pip lives with a kind-hearted blacksmith named Joe Gargery (played by Bernard Miles) who happens to be married to Pip’s older sister. However, one day Pip encounters Abel Magwitch (played by Finlay Currie). Magwitch is an escaped convict who intimidates Pip into getting him food and a file for his chains. Despite Pip’s help, Magwitch is re-captured, seemingly never to be seen again.
Meanwhile, a wealthy eccentric spinster named Miss Havisham (played by Martita Hunt) makes an arrangement with Gargery for Pip come to her mansion regularly to provide companionship for her and her adopted daughter Estella (played as a child by Jean Simmons). Estella is a beautiful teenage girl, but she has a cruel streak which drives her to constantly mock Pip’s coarse manners. Despite this, Pip falls in love with her. The problem is this all comes to an abrupt end when Pip turns 14 and begins his apprenticeship as a working-c;lass blacksmith, while Estella is off to France to complete her transformation into a “proper” lady.
Six years pass until the day comes when Mr. Jaggers (played by Francis L. Sullivan) pays Pip (played as adult by John Mills) a visit. Jaggers just so happens to be Miss Havisham’s lawyer, and as such he tells Pip that a mysterious benefactor has offered to transform him into a gentleman with “great expectations.” The obvious assumption for the identity of this “mystery benefactor” is Miss Havisham.
For his own transformation, Pip is taken to London where Jaggers arranges for him to stay with Herbert Pocket (played by Alec Guinness). It is while Pocket is teaching Pip the ways of being a gentleman that he tells Pip Miss Havisham was left at the altar many years ago. This matters to Pip because Pocket also tells him Miss Havisham is set on revenge against all men by breaking as many of their hearts as she can, and the young, beautiful Estella is her hammer for doing so.
A turn comes on Pip’s 21st birthday, when Joe Gargery comes to visit carrying a request from Miss Havisham to pay her a call. Pip does so, where he is overjoyed to see Estella (played as an adult by Valerie Hobson). Estella offers Pip another scoop of Pocket’s previous warning by telling him “Pip, I have no heart.” Despite this, Pip still spends much time with Estella, especially after she informs him that even with her flirtations with Bentley Drummle (played by Torin Thatcher), she has absolutely no feelings for him.
Another turn comes when Pip gets another “blast from the past” when Abel Magwitch re-appears. Magwitch informs Pip that he is the “mystery benefactor.” Magwitch explains that he escaped from prison again and made his way to Australia and became wealthy raising sheep in New South Wales. He also reveals that Jaggers also represents him; Pip’s assumption that his benefactor was Miss Havisham as she was also represented by Jaggers.
Meanwhile, Pip is growing suspicious of the relationship between Drummle and Estella. Despite the passing of years and multiple warnings, Pip’s torch for Estella still blazes. However, when Pip confronts Estella, she tells him she is going to marry Drummle…who is dreadfully unpopular, but very wealthy. Devastated, Pip then faces up Miss Havisham by giving her the Victorian English version of “Are you happy now?” by telling her “I am as unhappy as you could have ever meant me to be.”
Realizing that she has engineered Pip’s heartbreak, Miss Havisham begs his forgiveness but Pip storms out of the room, having none of her apology. Miss Havisham pursues him to continue her pleas, but as she follows him, a flaming log rolls out of the fireplace igniting Miss Havisham’s dress. Hearing her screams, Pip comes to her rescue to no avail.
Now, another fellow convict which Magwitch assaulted at the beginning of the film has become aware of his return to England from New South Wales. Knowing this convict wishes to gain revenge of his own, Pip and Pocket make plans to smuggle the aging Magwitch onto a ship leaving England. The three row out to the ship but are intercepted by waiting police who had been tipped off by Magwitch’s enemy. Magwitch and his nemesis begin fighting; during the struggle Magwitch is injured and his enemy is drowned by the ship’s paddle-wheels. Magwitch is then captured by the police and ultimately is sentenced to death.
After this, Pip has an epiphany as to Estella’s true parentage after recalling Magwitch’s speaking of his “lost daughter.” Jaggers confirms Pip’s suspicion that Magwitch is Estella’s father. After this revelation, Pip pays Magwitch a visit on death row. Pip tells him what has happened with Estella, but in spite of that, he is still in love with her. Upon hearing this, Magwitch reaches a level of inner peace allows him to pass away a contented man.
After Magwitch dies, Pip falls ill upon realizing his “great expectations” are gone and he is deep in debt. Joe Gargery brings Pip back to his home and nurses him back to health. Several years pass until Pip visits Miss Havisham’s house expecting to find it abandoned. Instead, he discovers Estella has taken up residence in the house she inherited upon Miss Havisham’s death. Pip also finds out Estella’s future plans have also fallen by the wayside as Drummle ended their engagement after he also discovered she was descended from the convict Magwitch.
Pip discovers Estella plans to live in seclusion in the house just as Miss Havisham did. Pip won’t have that, so he rips down the curtains and opens the force open the boarded-up windows;. For the first time in decades, sunlight floods into the room revealing years’ worth of cobwebs, dust, and neglect. Pip reveals to Estella that his love for her has never waned. After an initial hesitation, she wraps her arms around him and they leave the house hand in hand, seemingly never to part again.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The thread binding today’s hidden sports analogy is all about having dreams of a better life. Those of Phillip “Pip” Pirrip take place in the bowels of Victorian England, but they have a solid comparison on the steppes on southeastern Texas in the late 1970s.
For those of you who don’t live in the United States, one of the defining characteristics of the “Lone Star State” is it’s consuming obsession with all things American Football. This starts at the youngest levels of “Pee-Wee” football, and becomes a veritable religion at the college and professional levels. Today’s tale involves all of those, but begins at the high-school level where the fanaticism of football really turbo-charges fed by a flood of local pride. This only magnifies when a small-town kid suddenly becomes a highly-sought-after recruit for the grist mill that is college football.
A recent installment of this series touched on the corrupt nature of recruiting in college football. One of the more under-appreciated themes in Johnny Be Good is the promise of a better life offered to those high-schoolers who have what it takes to play at the next level. Be it the rigid class structure of 19th-century England or the more fluid nature of 20th-century America, the fuel which drives the engine of upward mobility is money…and where there’s money, there’s corruption.
This brings us to the tale of Eric Dickerson. The pride of Sealy, Texas, Dickerson was tearing up the playing fields of southeastern Texas in 1978, so much so that the 6’3″, 202-pound running back was being inundated with promises of a “better” life by the “mystery benefactors” which are the money-pumps which infuse those universities with the gargantuan athletic departments with the rivers of cash with are their life-blood.
As one can learn from Johnny Be Good, promises of cash, cars, girls, and just about anything else which would appeal to an 18-year-old boy are extremely illegal in the world of college football recruiting. But as we should all know by now, making things illegal in no way makes them disappear; it just makes the efforts not to be caught doing them more robust.
In the case of “Pip” Dickerson, those schools with the most robust efforts included the gargantuan-est of the gargantuan such as Southern California, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. It was the Aggies of Texas A&M who pulled into the lead by securing a commitment from Dickerson right about the same time he was seen on the streets of Sealy driving a brand new Pontiac Trans-Am. In a working-class cattle town of less than 4,000 people, the local high-school football star laying rubber all over Main Street in a brand-new, bright gold hot rod is going to draw attention.
At this point, Ron “Magwitch” Meyer went full-on “benefactor/convict.” At the time, Meyer was the head coach of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. SMU was an emerging football power, but they had not yet ascended to “gargantuan-est of the gargantuan” status yet. But landing “Pip” Dickerson would bring SMU from the remote shepherded scrubs of New South Wales to the heart of the Queen’s very own London in the college football world.
That thought squarely in mind, “Magwitch” Meyer set out to woo “Pip” Dickerson away from Texas A&M. Meyer plan started with charming Dickerson’s great-aunt, who held great sway over the football star. Once she took a liking to coach “Magwitch,” she convinced “Pip” Dickerson to switch his commitment from the Aggies to the Mustangs of SMU.
Of course, Meyer sweetened the deal, although we may never know with what exactly with what. To this day, “Pip Dickerson maintains his line “even if I did take something, I still wouldn’t tell.” In other words, “Magwitch” was giving, and “Pip” was taking.
That only left the problem of the gold Trans Am, which Meyer derisively called the “Trans A&M.” Dickerson told Meyer that if he accepted anything from him, he would have to give the car back. Meyer told him he didn’t because there was no way the people from Texas A&M were going to admit to anybody they gave him the car in the first place.
In the end, “Pip” got his better life. Dickerson led SMU’s running attack which became known as the”Pony Express.” In his career as a Mustang, Dickerson gained 4,450 yards on 790 carries to break Hall-of-Famer Earl Campbell’s Southwest Conference records in both categories for yards and attempts. His 48 career touchdowns tied Doak Walker’s record. SMU total for career scoring. All that led to his being crafted in teh first round by the Los Angeles Rams, where he would set the National Football League’s (NFL) single-season rushing record in 1984 with 2,105 yards…a record which still stands. Dickerson made a fortune in the NFL and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As for “Magwitch” Meyer, while he was never actually convicted of anything, he certainly should have been. He got out of town just ahead of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) investigations into the recruiting shenanigans at SMU when he accepted a job as the head coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots. This led to a nine-year career in the NFL during which he made millions of dollars and escaped the repercussions of the punishments handed down to SMU as a result of the NCAA.
Realistically, Meyer’s time at SMU was the prequel to another installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies which chronicled the “death penalty” imposed on SMU in 1987. “Magwitch” Meyer retired from the NFL after two largely unsuccessful stints coaching with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts…where he was re-united with “Eric “Pip” Dickerson in 1987 when Meyer replaced the fired coach Rod Dowhower and the Colts traded with the Los Angeles Rams for the star running back.
The Moral of the Story:
For better or worse, all people are basically “capitalists” at heart; they all want what they think is theirs, and there’s not much they won’t do to get it.
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