Few movies—and certainly none concerned with sport—have ever come out with such impact as Derby, which is now opening in theaters around the country. Judith Crist has called the film "the first total triumph of the v�rit� that cinema aspires to," whatever that means, and other critics have waxed almost as poetic. The irony is that Derby is about the Roller Derby, which so many sports fans haughtily look down on as a sham; yet it is this "sport" in this film which tells so many real, harsh truths about America.
Derby is so genuine that it is often hard to believe that it is not staged. Young Mike Snell, who skated into the starring role in the film by asking to try out for the Roller Derby when it played his home town, Dayton, cheats on his wife and his boss before the cameras with as much style as boldness. His wife confronts one of her husband's mistresses in a scene so excruciatingly raw that it is embarrassing to watch. And Charlie O'Connell, the quintessential Roller Derby hero, describes himself and his life in such a way that younger generations will surely forget there ever was a Horatio Alger. Success tales must be "Charlie O'Connell stories" hereafter.
For anyone—particularly anyone satiated with the vintage 1930 "highlight films" that baseball, football and basketball still faithfully produce every year—Derby is a giant step into the real world of sport, and otherwise. If you liked The Knute Rockne Story, you'll hate Derby.
CARNIVAL SHOW CLOSES
The mismatch of the century, coming on the heels of the fight of the century, has now, praise be, been averted. The proposal to pit Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight champion, against Wilt Chamberlain, who never has had a professional fight and has had precious little amateur experience, was at best ludicrous.
The Floyd Patterson-Pete Rademacher championship fight of 1957 was all but laughed out of the ring, but Rademacher was at least an Olympic champion and did in fact knock Patterson down, thereby establishing that he had some slight measure of competence.
It has been suggested that Chamberlain's part in the aborted affair may be forgivable on the dubious ground that he didn't fully realize what he was doing. Or did he? A few years ago he led Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, to believe that he was serious about abandoning basketball for a boxing career. But as soon as a more favorable basketball contract was waved at him he abandoned the idea instantly.
The announced reason for dropping the tight—that Chamberlain wanted a tax-free guarantee of $500,000 and that details of such a deal could not be worked out in an hour or so—has a specious ring. It is just possible that Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, forestalled the event by coming up with more money for Chamberlain.
As for Ali, he has less of an excuse. Prizefighting has been good to him. He has no right to drag it down to the level of professional wrestling. He most certainly does not stand in dire need of money. What he does need is a couple of good, stiff fights against experienced, competent opponents before he again goes up against Joe Frazier.