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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fore! (originally published 11/00)

Sooner or later, moviemakers seem to get around to dramatizing just about every sport there is. This is only natural, since the competitive nature of sporting events is inherently dramatic. Also, most sports involve the kind of intense action that movie cameras just love to capture. There are, however, exceptions. The more sedate sports, although still charged with the drama of competition, don't seem to exert quite as strong an attraction on Hollywood.

Take golf, for instance. Ninety percent of the action consists of walking from one lie to the next, and another nine percent is spent staring at the grass in sober meditation while lining up the next shot. With that in mind, it isn't so surprising that there have been relatively few movies made about golf.

None of this, however, has stopped Robert Redford from making "The Legend of Bagger Vance," starring Matt Damon as a golfer who has lost his swing and Will Smith as the man who helps him find it. For a sampling of earlier golfing movies, look for these titles on home video.

"Follow the Sun" (1951). Glenn Ford plays Ben Hogan in this biographical look at the career of one of golf's most revered champions. Adapted from a "Reader's Digest" article, the script centers around Hogan's struggle to come back after an automobile accident that nearly took his life. Real life golfers Sam Snead, James Demaret, and Cary Middlecoff appear as themselves.

"Dead Solid Perfect" (1988). In this clever film, novelist and screenwriter Dan Jenkins does for the pro golf tour what he did for pro football in "Semi-Tough." The made-for-cable adaptation of Jenkins's book stars Randy Quaid as Kenny Lee, a boozing golf pro who is just barely good enough to make the tour. He can skin rich pigeons in pickup games, but he knows he'll probably never see a first place purse on the tour. Jenkins's dialogue, as usual, is spicy and sharp, and Quaid's performance lives up to the movie's title.

"The Caddy" (1953). The filmmakers who have been most consistently drawn to golf down through the years, by a wide margin, have been the comedians. In this film, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis dig a few divots in the dignity of the game. Lewis plays the son of a famous pro golfer. He knows the game inside out and would surely have followed in his father's footsteps except for the fact that he can't play with a crowd watching him. Martin plays indifferently well, but is unfazed by crowds. Together, they win tournaments - Lewis, as Martin's caddy, coaches him through his games.

"Three Little Beers" (1935). Speaking of the dignity of the game, just imagine The Three Stooges unleashed on the links. That's what this short subject consists of, as the boys play employees at a brewery that is sponsoring a golf tournament. This film can be found on tape as part of a collection called "The Three Stooges: Woman Haters."

"The Golf Specialist" (1930). Although W.C. Fields appeared in several silent films, it was talking pictures that made him a comedy legend. His first talkie was this very funny short subject, which was essentially a filmed record of one of Fields's vaudeville routines. As a would-be golfer, Fields already has adopted the persona that would make his fortune - the blustery, ostentatious windbag whose silver tongue is backed up by nothing at all.

"Caddyshack" (1980). This was the film that put director Harold Ramis on the map. Somewhere in all the slapstick there's a story about a young caddy trying to make good, but that's really only a clothesline on which to hang a string of cheerfully tasteless gags. With Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase providing the laughs, it isn't hard to see why it proved to be a runaway box office success.

I should mention, by the way, that there are plenty of films available on video that include wonderful golfing scenes, even though the main storyline of the film lies elsewhere. Most especially, don't miss W.C. Fields in "The Dentist" (1932) and Charlie Chaplin in "The Idle Class" (1921). If you're a golfer, their ludicrous misadventures on the links will make you feel better about your game. And if you're not a golfer, well, they'll make you feel better about that too.

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