“Winners” by Frank Sinatra
Interesting Dated References: Hospitals that look like what hospitals looked like in the early 70s, people doing stuff for people they don’t know very well.
Best Line: Maurie — “Hey man, I don’t know, I wasn’t invited … .” Friend, in reply — “Aw come on, it’s a party. They can always use another guy!”
Social Context: There’s a massive subtext going on here about white guilt. They are certain to clarify several times that Twyman, “Wasn’t all that good of friends with Maurie.” Of course, they never delve any further into it, and I’m probably just making it up in my head because I’m bitter and can’t understand doing something for anyone.
Summary: The 70s were awesome because you could re-release a movie under a different name and no one complained. There weren’t any message boards for them to complain on, you didn’t have to switch URLs, you just changed the name of your movie and that was that. Maurie, released in 1973, must have been mis-marketed because when the home video explosion of the early 80’s happened, it was released as Big Mo’. My guess is the filmmakers were originally trying to focus on the friendship and family aspects of the film, but after all those values bottomed out in the 80’s, they decided to go full board into the sports aspects of the film.
Maurie opens with Bernie Casey, star of numerous classic 70s exploitation movies, playing the real life character of Maurice Stokes. Stokes sits on a plane and has flashback after flashback about his life. Fatherly motivation as a kid, meeting his lady, joining the Royals basketball team, etc. Then he has some type of aneurism and all his teammates get really concerned. All this in the midst of a plane that has brown and yellow plaid seats and brown paneling. Stokes winds up in a coma for a bit, then comes out only to discover he has no motor skills and cannot communicate. Lucky for him Bo Svenson is there. Svenson plays teammate Jack Twyman, who assumes Maurie’s burden. Since the Stokes family is very poor, Twyman takes legal custody and starts holding fund raisers for Maurie.
Look at those circular plant things in the background. This is supposed to be the cafeteria for a hospital. That’s incredible. Red chairs! What the fuck were they thinking? This was before homogenization took over the world. They were thinking about making this nice and comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, not how to make things as boring as possible.
Twyman starts to receive money from fans and Stokes slowly makes progress through rehabilitation. Everything we’re dealing with here is straight up Brian’s Song melodrama. In fact, there’s hardly anything new being covered here. Also of note is that Benie Casey was in Brian’s Song, as well. Apparently he was eager to get into the “sick guy” seat. There are mild moments of comic relief, but most of those have that awkward, “Why are they trying to make jokes?,” feeling about them. In the midst of one of these moments, the film switches back to serious sappy melodrama as Stokes sees his lady friend leave the hospital with another man. There’s another weird element here where Maurie and Jack talk about, “Not having anything for retirement,” and how Maurie only has, “$3,000 in the bank.” That’s right, there was a time when professional athletes were actually paid average wages.
Eventually, Twyman decides to retire and on the night of his final game he convinces Maurie to come out. I should note that other than a brief flashback in the beginning, this is the first scene on a basketball court. That makes it pretty hard to market this movie as a sports film as they did on the 80s re-release. Anyway, the crowd cheers for Maurie and then he stands up. Then the movie ends. If you want to read about the real Maurice Stokes, please do, it seems like a rather sad and depressing story. He would have been ashamed and disappointed with this syrupy, mis-marketed movie, though.
Poster and Box Art: There’s no way to argue with this old style of posters. And look at this even better poster:
The box art for Big Mo’ isn’t that great. It’s a scene from the brief flashback at the beginning when they were on the basketball court. I can’t believe that they dared to push the sports aspect of this film, considering there’s only one damn basketball scene in the entire fucking movie.
Availability: There where a few used VHS on eBay.