Monday, April 27, 2009

Paper Lion (1968)

Directed by Alex March. Lawyers have ruined everything these days so nobody is allowed to do anything daring unless they've been hired to do it. Yes, you could pay to skydive or bungee jump or whatever, but not until you sign a stack of waivers. What writer George Plimpton once did will never happen again. Plimpton was a Harvard-educated journalist best known for putting himself in high-risk professional experiences as an amateur and then writing about his experiences.

In 1963, Plimpton participated in pre-season training with the Detroit Lions and ran a few plays in a scrimmage game as a quarterback. He wrote about it in his book, "Paper Lion," which apparently sold well enough to be made into this movie, which starred Alan Alda and came out in 1968.

The movie takes a lot of liberties with the facts, showing Plimpton playing in a pre-season game rather than a scrimmage. The movie also makes it appear as if the players on the team believed for quite a bit longer than they did that Plimpton was just another player trying out for the team, which is absolutely ridiculous. It's even harder to believe when Alda is playing Plimpton. However, at least they accurately portray Plimpton getting his ass kicked in the few plays he ran. They also accurately portray the famous Detroit bar fight in which Plimpton took on a whole group of provoking troublemakers so that his teammates wouldn't get fined or arrested for fighting.

So this is a perfectly entertaining movie though perhaps not completely as originally intended. The NFL being what it is today, lawyers being what they are today, it's a marvel to know that this happened at all. In other writing experiences, Plimpton sparred with boxers Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson. He pitched to Ernie Banks in Yankee Stadium before the second All-Star Game. I would cherish the "Paper Lion" and Plimpton's career itself as a lost form of journalism and performance art, and this movie as a by-product of that.

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