When the 1932 Olympics hit LA, it began a long history of synergy between the games and the movie business. That synergy led to Zhang Yimou, China's answer to William Wyler, who gave the recent opening ceremony all due pageantry. Over the years, the Olympics contributed to the movies, foaling movie stars by the ton. The games were a casting call whenever one needed someone as chunky as a wrestler or as slender as a swimmer, or Tarzan, who I guess is a combo of swimmer and wrestler. My favorite will always be Harold "Oddjob" Sakata, silver medalist in the light-heavyweight weight-lifting competition at the 1948 Olympiad. Defamer.com has the more tragic roster of Olympians who pursued cinematic careers like those of Mitch Gaylord and Bruce Jenner. The games have foaled classic documentaries, too, the most well known example is Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 Olympia. Yet there have been these lesser known pictures about this world-wide fest:
1. Million Dollar Legs (1932). "Klopstokia, a far-away country. Chief exports: goats and nuts. Chief imports: goats and nuts. Chief inhabitants: goats and nuts." It's a backward Balkan country, full of intrigue and assassination attempts. The only way to run it is to be the strongest man in the nation and to prove it via Indian wrestling. That's no easy task because the nation is full of Samson-like bruisers: the secret is the national drink, goat's milk. It's the reason why the Klopstokians put a billy goat on their flag. Their current president (W. C. Fields) decides to enter as many of the citizens as he can in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics to promote the nation and clean up the $8 million national debt. 64 minutes of berserkery, featuring silent comedian Ben Turpin as an assassin. Man Ray and the surrealists loved it according to Joseph Mankiewicz, its writer.

2. It Happened in Athens (1962). Speaking of goats, one of the gold medalists at the first modern Olympics in Athens 1896 was Spiridon Louis, a former shepherd and professional water hauler who won the marathon. He became a national hero. (The arena in Athens for the last Olympics was named in Louis' honor). This film is basically fiction, and even Jayne Mansfield's many fans don't remember it so much; she plays an actress who romances Louis. Rumor has it that Mansfield had an affair with Trax Colton who plays Louis. Bob Mathias, a renowned decathalon star and Wheaties box model, has a role in it.

3. Walk Don't Run (above) (1966) The remake of the cozy old 1943 George Stevens comedy The More the Merrier is Cary Grant's last movie; he plays a titled Englishmen attending the '64 Tokyo Olympics, when the already crowded city was packed with visitors. When he offers to share his flat, he also organizes a romance between an Olympic runner (Jim Hutton) and a young lady (the far-away eyed Samantha Eggar).

4. Visions of Eight (1973) Actually a great idea: getting 8 different directors to cover the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Kon Ichikawa of the full length documentary Tokyo Olympiad observes the runners. Claude Lelouch of A Man and a Woman zeroes in on the losers in the swimming competition, who were smoked or left in the dust (both metaphors suck when you're talking about swimming) by Mark Spitz, the Michael Phelps of his day. Arthur (Bonnie and Clyde) Penn focuses on the pole vault; Michal Pflegher takes up the subject of the female athletes, and Mai Zetterling, the Swedish director, highlights the heaviest weightlifters. Yuri Ozerov of Russia and John Schlesinger take the opening and closing ceremonies, respectively. A hard movie to find ...

5. Yuri Ozerov ... not to be confused with the basketball player of the same name, is an obscure director; dare we say that his 110 min long Proshchaniye s Olimpiados (1980) is a lost classic? Why not? It means "Farewell to the Olympics" and it was his account of the 1980 Moscow Olympiad.

6. 21 Hours in Munich (1976) What a poster! William A. Graham (Return to the Blue Lagoon, Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid) directed William Holden in a sunset performance as the Munich police chief, who watches in horror as the '72 Olympics are famously upstaged ... in circumstances covered by the non-fictional and excellent One Day in September and the misguided Munich. Frano Nero is the swarthiest man in the cast and thus must be billed as the terrorist. Though he's had a long career in Italy, he was most famous in the states as Lancelot in the flop 1967 version of Camelot. With Richard Basehart as Willi Brandt.

7. Running Brave (1983). For some reason Robbie Benson was the '80s go-to man for ethnic parts; he wore the brown contact lenses in Walk Proud (1979) to play a Chicano gang banger. Here he plays Billy Mills, the Lakota runner who overcame prejudice and won at the 1964 Olympics. At least they hired Graham Greene, a famous Indian actor as Mills' father.
categories Cinematical