The Sporting Club (1971)

the sporting club 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haves versus have-nots.

Jim (Nicholas Coster) finds out that his business is going under and he barely has any money left. To escape the stress he decides to take a trip to the wilderness of northern Michigan for a little R&R. Unfortunately once there he meets his friend Verner (Robert Fields) who has built a shooting range in his basement and wants to challenge everyone to a duel. The snotty sporting club that Jim belongs to wants to boot him out when they realize he is no longer making an income and rebel- rouser Earl Olive (Jack Warden) gets into a war with the elitist at the sporting club, which sends things spiraling out-of-control between the two sides with Jim right in the middle.

Based on the Thomas McGuane novel the film has the right concept, but not the fluid essence or wry humor of his writing. Some of his later work that was brought to the screen fared better. This film version is too uneven and takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes somewhat intriguing when we are given the idea of this set-up of a wild shoot-out between Olive’s biker gang and the elderly members of the club, but just as things seem to be getting interesting the film veers into a radically different direction and has all the sporting club members getting into a bizarre sex orgy. This may sound funny or even sexy, but it really isn’t as all the people were in their 60’s or 70’s and seeing their naked bodies cavorting around comes off as gross and sick.

The satirical jabs at the snotty club members are funny to some extent. They represent society’s old order people still clinging to age-old traditions and values even though the rest of the world around them is changing. They boast about their exclusive club membership even though it no longer has any allure and their stubbornness only makes them more insignificant and absurd. The scene where they stare blankly like lost children at the blown-up remnants of their cottage is probably the best moment in the film. However, their caricatures end up going overboard they become too illogical and ridiculous like crazed stupid creatures instead of human beings.

Most anti-establishment films of the era, which in the end is what this is, usually cast young stars in the lead, but here we have Coster who was already middle-aged making it look too much like the old guard vs. the old guard, which did not connect with the young filmgoers and they stayed away. The middle-age audience of the time was the establishment themselves and they found the film’s crass humor and scenarios off-putting and thus the film alienated everybody and bombed terribly at the box office.

Robert Fields gives an excellent performance as a budding sociopath and his scenes have an added tension. Warden is also very good in an unusual role for him as a joint smoking trouble maker who loves to rock-the-boat. The gun duel he has with Fields is interesting and his presence helps give the film a few extra points. Margaret Blye has a beautiful face making her a pleasure to look at no matter what she is doing. Jo Ann Harris is also sexy and the scene where she strips down to her panties with the phrase ‘my grandmother loves me’ stenciled on the rear is fun.

The film is weird enough to be worth a look as a curio. Director Larry Peerce infuses some interesting camera work into the proceedings and Michael Small’s moody folk rock score deserves its own album. Despite the locale looking very much like Michigan it was actually filmed near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Avco Embassy Pictures

Available: None at this time.

One response to “The Sporting Club (1971)

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