Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: John Wayne, Donna Reed, Charles Coburn, Tom Tully, Sherry Jackson
Director: Michael Curtiz
Release Date: 4 April 1953
Length: 110 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars
“Fighting for custody of his daughter, coach Steve Williams (John Wayne) takes a job at a tiny Catholic school with a football team in need of help. But when he lands at the center of a recruiting scandal, Williams may lose any chance of getting his daughter back. Wayne plays a rare comedic role in director Michael Curtiz‘s winning film, which co-stars Charles Coburn as the school’s elderly rector and Donna Reed as the Duke’s love interest.” — Netflix.com
I think this is the first movie I have seen John Wayne in where he has not played a cowboy! I was surprised by how handsome he is and how great he looks in a suit. It was also great to see him as a loving father who is totally clueless as to how to raise a little girl, but is determined to involve his daughter in every aspect of his life. I thought he did a great job as a kind of playboy who was trying to change his ways to keep his daughter away from his witch of an ex-wife. The little girl who played his daughter (Sherry Jackson) was precocious without being obnoxious and I really liked her. She was a great foil for John Wayne‘s character and brought some tenderness and some soft touches to his character. Donna Reed was supposedly the love interest, but it is more like John Wayne hitting on her at every opportunity than them having an actual on-screen romance. Donna Reed is the social worker assigned to John Wayne‘s case and ends up making completely the wrong assumptions about them and kind of ruining their lives. She looked beautiful onscreen, though, and I found her very believable in her role. The cute little old guy (Charles Coburn) who played the priest who was the headmaster of the college was adorable and I enjoyed watching him interact with his coworkers.
The storyline was interesting as it pulled from a few different areas. You have John Wayne fighting his ex-wife in a heated custody battle for their little girl so John Wayne is trying to clean up his act and persuade the courts that he is a fit father, but cant’ help acting like the cowboy he is and trying to buck the system. You also have a small college fighting for survival and choosing football as the way to raise the money to keep the college going. This movie is in the early days of football when the sport is still fairly brutal and does not have quite as many rules to protect its players. When John Wayne bends or outright breaks the rules to get the college a winning football team, how far is going too far at a conservative church college? All of these subplots made this movie more interesting and kept it going along at a fast clip.
This classic movie is all in black and white, but it is crisp and clear and a lot of fun to watch. There are not many clips of the football game itself and the story definitely focuses around John Wayne’s character, but I liked that and I liked seeing him in something a little bit different. If you have the opportunity to catch this movie on TV, like I did, I think that you will enjoy it. It is nothing special, but it is an enjoyable and likeable film that will appeal to a wide age range.
This movie shows some drinking, smoking, pool playing and waking up with a hangover. Sports rules and regulations, our legal system, religious issues and integrity are all presented, discussed and left to the viewer to think about what is appropriate and what is right. This movie does take place at a small Roman Catholic college so there are lots of priests and discussions of religious issues. Appropriate for viewers of all ages, but recommended for ages 8 and up.