I had completely forgotten how stinging, funny, and sharp the 1979 film North Dallas Forty is, and how macho director and co-writer Ted Kotcheff (First Blood, Uncommon Valor, Wake in Fright) really captured a very specific tone that’s hard to pull off. Combining biting satire, themes of male bonding and friendship, and an observant eye for the game of football, this is definitely one of the better gridiron movies that I’ve seen, up there with Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, and Rudy. Nick Nolte was fabulous as a broken down wide receiver and shared great chemistry with country star Mac Davis, playing a womanizing quarterback prone to the various excesses of the night life that accompanies a professional football player’s career. I was not surprised to learn that screenwriter Nancy Dowd did uncredited rewrites, as the anarchic spirit of her previous sports opus, Slap Shot, can be felt in numerous instances.
Paul Lohman’s naturalistic cinematography recalls some of his breezy collaborations with Robert Altman with that same sense of capture-it-in-the-moment grace, and I love the priceless final shot, which really sticks it to the man true and good. This is as much of a “football movie” as it is an indictment of an entire system and particular mode of thinking. Charles Durning, G.D. Spradlin, Bo Svenson, scene stealer John Matuszak, Dale Haddon, and an oily Dabney Coleman rounded out a very solid supporting cast, and despite the screenwriters apparently making significant departures from the source material (the project was based on Peter Gent’s bestselling novel), the film hits all of its intended targets and presents a fairly scathing critique of the greed and rowdy lifestyle that accompanies professional sports, and how the men on the playing field are sometimes left out to dry when it comes to their overall health and well-being.