The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Better than Jim Thorpe.

Sam Archer (John Amos) is the hapless head coach of the sports teams at Merrivale College where none of them have managed to win a single game in the 4 years that he he’s been there. He blames the problem on the inept student athletes and travels to Zambia with his assistant coach Milo (Tim Conway) to get back to his African roots. It is there that he comes upon Nanu (Jan-Michael Vincent) who possesses an amazing athletic ability. Sam is able to get Nanu to travel back with him to the US where he hopes he can place him on his many teams to get them to win, but finds an obstacle in the form of Gazenga (Roscoe Lee Browne) an African witch doctor who raised Nanu and has different ideas about what he thinks Nanu should become.

This film lost me right from the start with its inane and completely unbelievable plot. While I realize this was aimed at kids I still think it’s important to get a child to build a good logical foundation even in their early years and in that respect this film fails pathetically. The idea that all the sports teams at one school would be unable to win one single game in 4 years defies all laws of probability. Yes, there are many bad teams out there in both the pros and amateur level, but they can usually win a couple of games per season and the fact that none of them could here seems almost impossible.

Besides, isn’t it the coach’s responsibility to get the players to perform better and if he couldn’t shouldn’t he be blamed and not the players? Coaches are also in charge of recruiting prospects to come to the school, so if all he can bring in are inept stooges then that should be on him too. Most teams would’ve fired a coach with such a dismal record and yet in this film John Amos resigns when a school administrator puts ‘pressure’ on him to start winning even though 4 years should’ve been enough time to turn things around and anyone else in the same situation would’ve been given the boot long before.

The comic segments involving the athletes exaggerates their ineptness in an extreme way. One bit has a football players (played by David Manzy who later went on to star in the title role in the cult hit The Baby) hand the ball off to a player wearing the opposing team’s jersey and not realizing this was a stupid thing to do even though any first grader would know it was. For the comedy to be funny it has to have some bearing in reality and the ‘hilarious’ moments of sports bloopers that take up the film’s first several minutes don’t come even close.

On the plus side I did enjoy seeing Dayle Haddon in her film debut. While her character doesn’t have all that much to do or say I still found her youthful beauty nice to look at. Jan-Michael Vincent is at his attractive peak here too as this was fortunately filmed years before his self-destructive tendencies got the better of him. However, the character he plays, which is a lame parody of Tarzan, is incredibly dull. It would’ve been more interesting had he had some weakness that he had to overcome instead of just being super great at everything, which gets boring real fast.

Amos is quite amusing for his funny facial expressions alone and Conway has some engaging moments as well. I particularly liked him in the scene where Amos gives a televised interview and the camera zooms into him while Conway  desperately tries to get his face into the picture. The segment where Conway is shrunk to miniature size features some impressive special effects.

Some may enjoy Howard Cosell essentially playing himself as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t allow his on-air partner, played by Joe Kapp, to say anything. However, this same bit was redone just 3 years later in the movie Gus where Bob Crane played the same type of egotistical announcer, but he was much funnier at it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Scheerer

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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