Number One (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Heston plays a quarterback.

            Ron Catlan (Charlton Heston) is an aging quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football team. At one time he was the best in the league and even won a championship, but now at age 40 his skills are declining and there’s a second string quarterback eager to take his place yet Ron isn’t emotionally ready to move on from the game even though he knows he should.

This is the type of film that gives dramas a bad reputation. The dialogue and scenarios are soap opera like. A few amusing bits would have helped eleviate an otherwise relentlessly downbeat tone. The same basic issue gets talked about and discussed over and over again until it is nauseating. There is no beginning middle and end to this thing. The storyline is introduced right from the start and then goes nowhere with it. The pacing is unbearably slow with no action and conversations that are general in nature and have no verve. The brief cutaways that are used are heavy handed and add nothing.

Heston looks goofy in a Saints helmet. Apparently he was unable to throw the ball accurately, or at a long distance, so they were forced to show a close-up of him going through the throwing motion, but then cut to a long shot of a professional player completing the throw, which becomes obvious and tacky looking. He also has the same grouchy expression on his face the whole time and the character is unlikable and uninteresting. The viewer never becomes emotionally caught up in his plight and it surprised me that the filmmakers ever thought that they would.

The climactic sequence consists of Catlan being hit by three Dallas Cowboy players, which injuries him enough to end his career. The intention was to make this stark and jarring for the viewer and the image of him lying on the field can be seen on the film’s promotional poster as seen above.  Supposedly the actual hit done during filming was so violent that it ended up cracking three of Heston’s ribs. However, capturing the hit and making the intended impact on the viewer is botched. The edits are too fast and it goes by so quickly that it doesn’t seem like a big deal when you see it. Most people will see similar types of hits during actual games while watching them on a regular Sunday. If anything the scene should have been done in slow motion and I am not sure why it wasn’t since other segments of the football action was.

The music choice was another mistake. I realize that the setting is New Orleans and in order to help create the ambience of the city director Tom Gries decided to give the film a jazz score and even has jazz legend Al Hirt make a cameo appearance, but the soft, light, laid back jazz sound does not coincide with the hard hitting and high adrenaline elements of the game.

Bruce Dern is terribly wasted. The women seem to give stronger performances than their male counterparts, but the movie is so bad as a whole that it hardly seems to mean anything.

The Saints seemed to be an odd choice as the football team since they had become an expansion team only two years prior to this film being made. I like the team’s unique colors and logo, but in the movie Catlan has supposedly won a championship with the team in prior years, which doesn’t make sense if one knows the team’s history.

I wrote previously in this column that The Longest Yard may very well be the best football movie ever made and if that is the case then this film is clearly the worst one. This film even makes the actual game itself and the action shown on the field seem boring and uninspired.

My Rating: 0 out of 10 

Released: August 21, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated M

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: United Artists

Available: None

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