CANNON MONTH: That Championship Season (1982)

It has been 25 years since the 1957 Fillmore High School basketball team won the Pennsylvania state championship. For some of the players, this has been a moment that has dominated everything that has happened in their lives ever since.

George Sitkowski (Bruce Derk) is the mayor of Scranton and fighting to stay in office, while James Daley (Stacy Keach) is a school principal struggling to provide for his family as his brother Tom (Martin Sheen) is headed for rock bottom. Phil Romano (Paul Sorvino, who originated the role in the play) may be the most successful of the team, but will betray anything and anyone. Their coach, played by Robert Mitchum, still sees them as teenage boys, not men much closer to the close of their lives.

From the bigotry and cruelty of the coach* to the fact that the star player refuses to attends these reunions, the team soon realizes just how hollow it all is.

Starting as an off-Broadway in 1972. this moved to Broadway and played for 844 performances before Cannon produced the film, working with creator Jason Miller — yes, from The Exorcist — to make this in Scranton, a place he grew up in. In 1999, Sorvino directed an update for Showtime in which he played Mitchum’s role and cast Vincent D’Onofrio, Gary Sinise, Tony Shalhoub and Terry Kinney in the roles of the team.

While this movie failed to make money, it did legitimize Cannon as a real studio.

*Speaking of issues of bigotry and cruelty, Mitchum was accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after he gave an interview to Esquire. According to this article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, when “…Mitchum was asked about the slaughter of six million Jews, the actor replied, “So the Jews say,” He added. “I don’t know. People dispute that.””

In a letter to the JTA’s Hollywood columnist Herbert Luft, Mitchum said that early in his meeting with the interviewer, he recited a racist speech delivered by Coach Delaney, which was “mistakenly believed to be my own. From that point on, he approached me as the character in the script and in playing the devil’s advocate in a prankish attempt to string him along we compounded a tragedy of errors.”

Then, at the premiere of the movie, he assaulted a female reporter and threw a basketball from the movie at a Time photographer, smashing the camera into her face, knocking out two of her teeth and losing his salary from this movie to pay her for the damages.

You can learn more about That Championship Season in Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

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