One of the virtues of this well-done anthology is its inclusion of clips from early sports movies like The Freshman ( Harold Lloyd as a bespectacled football star) and Heading Home (a 1924 biopic featuring a rail-thin Babe Ruth as himself). Is there a better antidote to Dick Vitale, after all, than a little silent footage?
Silver Screen doesn't attempt to explain why critics declared Raging Bull the best movie of the 1980s; it merely tells us that they did and gives us some worthwhile words from the estimable Vicki LaMotta, ex-wife of the movie's central character, Jake. " Robert De Niro became Jake," she says. Though HBO didn't get all the right people to provide commentary—Talia Shire, who played Adrian, is there for analysis of Rocky, but yo, where was Sylvester Stallone?—it didn't do badly. Jackie Cooper, who was just 10 when he starred in the alltime heart-tugger, The Champ, in 1931, reveals that his costar, Wallace Beery, hated children and practically pushed him away when they were finished filming a scene. Robert Wuhl reveals that the studio originally wanted to cut the subtly hilarious mound conference in Bull Durham (during which Wuhl, playing a coach, says that "candlesticks always make a nice wedding gift"). And the legendarily reticent Gene Hackman discusses his role as a coach in both Hoosiers and the underrated Downhill Racer. "We know the underdog is going to win," says Hackman of Hoosiers, "but there's a part of you that wants to see the process."
Quibbles? A few. We're forced to watch, for example, William Bendix's painfully unathletic batting in The Babe Ruth Story but get nothing of Gary Cooper's understated brilliance as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. And there was nothing from Personal Best, the most compelling film ever made about female athletes. But the decisions on what to put in Silver Screen were mostly good ones, including the relevant segments from nonsports films.
"My god, they shot him!" screams Sally Kellerman's Major Houlihan during the football scene in M*A*S*H.
"Hot Lips, you incredible nincompoop," says Lieut. Col. Henry Blake, "it's the end of the quarter."