Sporting Club, The (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1971 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Lorimar/AVCO Embassy (Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Sporting Club was director Larry Peerce’s immediate follow-up to his critically and commercially successful adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel Goodbye, Columbus, but unlike that film, it failed to find either an audience or a sympathetic critical ear. It hasn’t developed much of a following since then either, but the fact that it’s been largely unavailable on home video certainly hasn’t helped. Even if it had been more readily accessible over the years, it still remains a thematically opaque film that was always going to struggle to gain wide acceptance. In Howard Thompson’s New York Times review of The Sporting Club, he wondered aloud “What is this thing about?”, and many viewers will have the same question. To be fair, some of that confusion isn’t necessarily Peerce’s fault, as producer Joseph E. Levine took control during post-production and re-edited the film, eliminating many scenes that Peerce felt were crucial. The continuity in the final cut can be a bit choppy at times, but Peerce’s satirical intentions still shine through, so it’s a flawed but fascinating journey through the heart of the most purely American kind of class warfare.
Peerce spent his career moving back and forth between television and feature films, and also between adaptations and original material. The Sporting Club is another adaptation, this time of the 1968 novel by Thomas McGuane. To bring it to the screen, he enlisted the help of writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr. Both of them had first worked together on the original Batman television series, and Semple brought the right kind of attitude to the screenplay that matched the arch tone that Peerce wanted for the film. The story revolves around the Centennial Club, a lodge where wealthy movers and shakers can go to get away from having to deal with the little people, and instead celebrate their own superiority. They’re not exactly Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe, but they like to think that they are. When one of the members decides to shake the rest of them out of their bourgeois complacency and purify the membership, he unleashes a chain of events with explosive results—literally so. Yet even that’s not half as incendiary as what happens when the members finally discover the true heritage of their society. The Sporting Club stars Robert Fields, Margaret Blye, Nicholas Coster, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, James Noble, and Ralph Waite.
Levine’s tinkering ended up putting The Sporting Club in the odd position of being a broad farce that’s not always clear about its intentions. It’s as subtle as a brick through a window, but it still remains somewhat enigmatic in the end. Yet regardless of whether or not it’s the film that Peerce set out to make, those internal contradictions are part of what keeps The Sporting Club fascinating decades down the road. If anything, they help it to transcend any dated topical references and remain timeless instead. No matter what the day and age, it’s important to remember the first rule of class warfare: when you declare war, don’t forget that the other side might fight back, and they might not care about what’s important to you. At one point, a character asks, “You wouldn't shoot down an unarmed man, would you? An unarmed Harvard man?” That’s a distinction of little import to anyone who isn’t already part of the same society. However inscrutable parts of The Sporting Club may be, that particular message rings through loud and clear.
Cinematographer Jack Courtland shot The Sporting Club on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. StudioCanal provided this sparkling new 4K restoration, and it breathes fresh life into the film. The image is sharp and clean, with practically no signs of damage. It does appear that some light noise reduction has been applied at times, but not in a destructive way. There’s plenty of fine detail on display, with well-resolved foreground and background textures. The grain has been minimized, but not eliminated—it’s only when viewed up close that it sometimes appears a bit smeary. (To be fair, that could also be the result of the encoding as much as the noise reduction, as the disc tends to run at only 20-25mbps.) The colors look accurate, neither too faded nor overly saturated, with generally natural flesh tones, though they do veer a little too reddish in a few shots. While the contrast is solid, the black levels vary a bit, especially in the darker scenes. It’s not quite perfect, but this is still an auspicious high definition debut for a film that’s been MIA on home video since its original VHS release.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Everything sounds clear, with no appreciable distortion, and perhaps just a bit of background hiss. The blackly comic tone of the film is really led by the score and songs that were contributed by Michael Small, and they sound fine here.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Daniel Kremer
- Interview with Larry Peerce (18:37)
- Interview with Nicholas Coster (14:53)
- Theatrical Trailers (4 in all – 11:07)
Filmmaker and historian Daniel Kremer opens his commentary by discussing Michael Small, who Kremer considers to be one of the most unsung composers of the period. He then goes on to give an overview of Larry Peerce’s career, and offers a defense of the director as a true auteur. He notes Peerce’s tendency to pick hot button projects, even though that resulted in some career missteps. Kremer also spends some time reading from a few of the negative reviews from 1971, and declares that the film was too covert for even the counterculture of the day to accept. Still, he feels that it has even more relevance to our modern times than it did back then, and that’s undeniable. (As an aside, while talking about the cast near the end of the commentary, Kremer wonders if actors Logan Ramsey and Anne Ramsey might have been a married couple since they appeared in several films together. For those who are curious, the answer is yes, indeed they were, right up until her death in 1988.)
In the interview with Peerce, he explains the trajectory of his career that led to him making The Sporting Club as his fourth feature. He says that he exposed a very dark side of himself by choosing McGuane’s novel as subject matter. He doesn’t regret picking it as a project, even though the production caused him some pain. He does bemoan some of the missing footage that Levine cut out, but he accepts the fact that it’s gone for good at this point. (Interestingly, he admits that he never had final cut on any of his films.) Nicholas Coster’s interview features the actor giving a terse description of his own background before talking about the making of The Sporting Club. He felt that the script did credit to McGuane’s book, though he preferred Peerce’s version to Levine’s final cut. He also spends some time sharing his memories of the other actors that he worked with on the film, like Margaret Blye and Richard Dysart. Finally, the collection of trailers includes The Farmer, Trackdown, Privilege, and Slow Dancing in the Big City.
Forgotten films like The Sporting Club don’t necessarily get much love on home video, so it’s nice to see that it has some substantial extras included here. Larry Peerce isn’t necessarily a name that’s familiar to film fanatics, let alone casual moviegoers, but he left a widely varied filmography that’s worthy of rediscovery (yes, even his most controversial efforts like Wired). Hopefully this lovely disc from Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing will spark a few conversations about him.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)