Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 Movie Review
In the energizing sports documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, announcer Don Gillis's voice is the truest form of escape for a world on the brink and even though this is really just the play-by-play for a 40-year-old matchup (though a famous one among those who care about such things as college football), Gillis's undiluted calling of the shots refreshes like a Detroit auto executive waiting for a government bailout of GM.
The football game in question is the legendary final season game between Harvard and Yale on November 23, 1968, the first time the two teams met undefeated since 1909. Archival footage of the game is interspersed with the recollections of 50 of the teams' players, who reflect on the game, their lives, and the culture of the time.
Lovingly assembled by then-Harvard undergraduate and current incendiary documentarian Kevin Rafferty (Blood in the Face, Feed, The Atomic Cafe) who, taking a break from exposing political pomposity and excess, wades into the fray with brio. A perfect film for this Thanksgiving season, it's a football game for the home theater living room -- you can almost smell the turkey roasting in the projection booth and autumn leaves rustling under your seat.
Not that there's anything revolutionary in Rafferty's approach -- it's just interviews and The Big Game.
Rafferty's interview style is relentlessly anti-Errol Morris. Rather than floating backgrounds behind his subjects, Rafferty settles upon interviewing the ex-players in their kitchens and dining rooms, bric-a-brac and coffee makers usually behind them. Most of the key players on both teams put in their two cents, including Yale Bulldogs Mike Bouscaren (the defensive captain who "was out hellbent for destruction") and quarterback Brian Dowling (who hadn't lost a game since the 7th grade and gained fame forever as B.D. in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip), as well as Harvard Crimsons Vic Gatto (the halfback who reveals that the players took over the Harvard team "in the spirit of 1968") and offensive guard and later Big Star Movie Actor Tommy Lee Jones, who recalls humorous anecdotes involving himself and roommate Al Gore. The only glaring omission is Yale halfback Calvin Hill, future Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys great, who for some reason didn't make the cut.
As the game grinds on, the interviews fall off as Rafferty zeroes in on the nail biting ending of the game. Yale, seeming ready to walk off with the game leading 29-13 with a minute to go, is suddenly scared straight by a cliffhanger surge by Harvard. The title tells the tale and the game roars to an exhilarating conclusion.
No showboating here, just love for the moment and a time gone by. As Jones dourly remarks, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Revolution was in the air. People's lives were changed by the minute. Ideas were flying around like bullets." And so were the footballs.
Still looking for Richard Kimble.
Cast & Crew
Director : Kevin Rafferty
Producer : Kevin Rafferty
Starring : Tommy Lee Jones, Brian Dowling, Vic Gatto, Frank Champi, Mike Bouscaren, J. P. Goldsmith, Pat Conway, George Lalich