This week we are reviewing the 1979 classic football movie North Dallas 40. Some people write this off as just another 70s raunchy comedy, but the film is more than that. It stars Nick Nolte as an aging receiver Phil Elliott on on the fictitious team “North Dallas”. (Which is obviously supposed to the the Dallas Cowboys, but the movie’s producers did not want to get sued).
Elliot is at the end of his career but is willing to do “whatever it takes” to remain in professional football just a few more years. The “whatever it takes” part is what puts this movie a cut above other sports comedy films. It shows how the football players are pumped full of pain killers and other drugs constantly just to keep them going.
It also shows how the owners of the team use their own players against one another. The owners use some underlying racial tensions to keep team adrenalin high. The owners are also using Elliott to try to coerce a new young player to start taking the drugs. The new player refuses to do permanent damage to his body by playing injured. He is afraid to take pain killers that will make his body so numb he cannot tell when he is dangerously hurt. The coaches keep telling the young player that it is OK. Then they hint that he can always be replaced by old Elliott who will take the drugs and do whatever is necessary for the team.
What is amazing about this 35 year old movie is that nothing has really changed in the NFL. Of course, the league claims things are different now; but are they really? If we forget about the funny 1970s hair styles in the film, the teams do not seem that much different today.
At one point Elliot points out the reality of the NFL. He states that the players are not the team. The owners and the corporations are the team. The players are just the equipment. The players are just things to be depreciated and then written off.
One of the best performances in the film is given by the legendary professional football player John Matuszak. He gives an impassioned speech at one point stating that it can’t just be a business. To him it still needs to be a sport. Sadly John Matuszak himself died at the age of 49 due to an accidental overdose of prescription pain killers. John was in almost continual back pain from injuries he suffered during his years in the sport.
The beautiful Dayle Haddon plays Elliott’s new girlfriend Charlotte. She is very intelligent and completely different than the football groupies Elliott is accustomed to. She questions the entire football scene and tells Elliott he is more important than the game.
Now that football season is in full swing, you may want to check out this movie.
We give this movie Four Stars ****