Cast & Crew
Sugar Ray Robinson
In order to gain first-hand experience for articles published by Sports Illustrated magazine, writer George Plimpton has pitched in baseball's all-star game and gone a few rounds in the fight ring with Sugar Ray Robinson. One day, while George is playing touch football in Central Park, his editor, Oscar Barnes, stops by and gets the inspired idea that George write about a rookie quarterback's indoctrination and training during tryouts for a pro football team. After several teams have rejected the idea, George is finally accepted by the Detroit Lions, provided he agrees to sign a waiver in case of injury. Although George's assignment is kept a secret from the other players, his unfamiliarity with the basic facts of the game ultimately betrays him, and he becomes the butt of team jokes in the classroom, on the playing field, in the locker rooms, and in the Lions' living quarters. Initially, several members of the team resent his status as a magazine writer; but, due mainly to the protective custody of defensive tackle Alex Karras, George eventually convinces the players of his sincerity. Following a visit from his secretary, Kate, George starts showing some proficiency in learning the intricacies of the game. Uncomplaining despite his not inconsiderable bruises, he is finally assigned a jersey bearing the numeral "O" and--once Detroit is safely ahead--permitted to play the final minutes in a pre-season game against the St. Louis Cardinals. His debut, however, is a disaster: within three plays he loses 32 yards, fumbles a pass, runs into his own goal post, and knocks himself unconscious. Despite his mortification, George's spirits pick up when his teammates give him credit for having spunk, and they award him the game ball. Deeply touched, he says goodby and leaves with Kate to write his article for Sports Illustrated .
Sugar Ray Robinson
Detroit Lions' Coaching Staff & Players
Willard W. Goodman
Roger Michael Rothstein
Louis San Andres
The impressive career in letters of the Harvard-educated Plimpton has been marked by the founding of The Paris Review while still in college. By the mid-60s, he had received mainstream fame for his Walter Mitty-esque stabs at multiple fields of athletic endeavor, with Sports Illustrated having published his reflections on pitching to baseball's All-Stars or trying to last three rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson. One of his most audacious such stunts-entering training camp with the Detroit Lions in an attempt to make the team as a backup quarterback-provided enough fodder for the best-selling book on which the film is based.
The screen adaptation (described in the opening titles as an "amiable fiction") finds Plimpton's editor (David Doyle) at Sports Illustrated trying to sell the journalist on the assignment of surreptitiously crashing an NFL team's locker room. While Plimpton quickly warms to the project, friends and colleagues try to remind him of the disastrous consequences of his mound and ring escapades (hilariously recreated in flashback by Alda). Further, team after team declines to cooperate with the venture; the Lions ownership only agrees once Plimpton signs off on a waiver of responsibility.
Arriving at camp, the willowy, 175-pound journalist offers the pretense of having played semi-pro ball in Canada. The Lions (including real-life franchise stars Alex Karras, John Gordy, Roger Brown, Mike Lucci and Pat Studstill) are put on early notice that something isn't quite kosher with this rookie. In short order, the long-in-the-tooth "semi-pro" reluctantly sings the Harvard fight song during his hazing, jams his fingers on the first snap from the center, and flutters his first pass into a water bucket.
When the whole truth regarding Plimpton's presence invariably leaks, the pros don't conceal their disdain and annoyance with the injury risk that the tyro presents to himself, and more importantly, to others. The reporter's refusal to back down and perseverance at practice, however, eventually wins the bemused acceptance of the jocks, and they allow him to see his assignment through to the end. The film culminates with a pre-season skirmish against the (then-) St. Louis Cardinals. With the lead safely in hand in the closing minutes, Lions coach Joe Schmidt lets Plimpton run the final series, with results that are extremely painful, and not just on account of the sackings.
For the climactic game footage, the makers of Paper Lion wisely made the handoff to Steve Sabol and NFL Films, and the end result offers one of the most punishing and memorable depictions of gridiron play ever captured for a feature film. The real-life sports figures captured on camera lend the movie a sense of nostalgic fun when viewed today; Karras, for the first time, got to demonstrate the screen presence that carried him to a second career as a character player. In this nutritional-supplement era, one can't help but smirk at Frank Gifford's admonitions to Plimpton regarding the hazards of rampaging linemen who top out at 6'5" and 260 pounds.
In his performance as Plimpton, Alda is comically winsome in the manner that would serve him so well in his eleven-year stint on the TV series M*A*S*H. Paper Lion also provided the screen debut for Lauren Hutton, one of the period's premier supermodels, in the admittedly decorative function as Plimpton's girl Friday. And yes, that's Roy Scheider in a small bit as a touch-football buddy. Many critics of its day pulled Lawrence Roman's screenplay adaptation down for missing the insight and nuance that Plimpton's reportage brought to locker room life. If you're looking for a representative time capsule of a far different era in sports, however, you'll find Paper Lion is just the ticket.
Producer: Stuart Millar
Director: Alex March
Screenplay: Lawrence Roman, based on a book by George Plimpton
Cinematography: Eugene Friedman, Peter Garbarini
Film Editing: Louis San Andres
Art Direction: Hank Aldrich
Music: Roger Kellaway
Cast: Alan Alda (George Plimpton), Lauren Hutton (Kate), Joe Schmidt (Himself), Alex Karras (Himself), John Gordy (Himself), Mike Lucci (Himself).
by Jay Steinberg
You try the AFL?- Vincent Lombardi
Location scenes were filmed in Central Park in New York City, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and at Boca Raton, Florida.
Released in United States Fall October 1969
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Fall October 1969