Classic Cinema 16: Knute Rockne All American (1940) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason Lockard and as an football fanatic I love football films and with football season in full swing I thought ’d like to share with you a football classic I recently was treated to, it is 1940s Knute Rockne, All American! This is biopic of the Norte Dame football star and head coach Knute Rockne! Going into the production of this film Director Lloyd Bacon had a tough decision to make, who could play the great motivational coach Knute Rockne; Lloyd turned to The Great Pat O’ Brien!

Pat O’Brien was born William Joseph Patrick O’Brien to an Irish-American Catholic family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He served as an altar boy at Gesu Church while attending Marquette Academy with fellow actor Spencer Tracy. Pat later attended Marquette University.

Pat O’Brien’s movie career took off and he soon appeared with James Cagney in nine feature films, including Angels with Dirty Faces in 1938. He began appearing in movies (many times playing Irish cops or priests) in the 1930s, starting with the role of ace reporter Hildy Johnson in the original version of The Front Page in 1931. He appeared in the highly successful 1946 suspense film, Crack-Up and played the lead in The Personality Kid. O’Brien may be best remembered for his role as a police detective opposite George Raft in Some Like It Hot, but his best role came in 1940 as he took the reigns and became the legendary coach Knute Rockne, All American, perhaps the most famous of all of the football coaches at Notre Dame, one of the most successful football programs in history.

Lars Rockne and his family, including his four year old son Knute, emigrate from Norway to Chicago 1892. After graduating High School Knute went to work to save his money so he could attend college and in his mid-twenties Knute finally attens obscure Notre Dame University, where he excels in football and chemistry. He and a teammate develop the forward pass as an offensive weapon while working as life guards on summer break and use it to upset heavily favored Army in a historic game. After graduation Rockne becomes a teacher while coaching part time. He professor tells him he could be a great scientist, but ultimately abandons academics to devote all his energies to football. Knute informs Father Callhan of his decision to take up coaching as his life’s work and than asks, “You think I’m making a mistake, don’t you?” to which Father John Callahan replies “Anyone who follows the truth in his heart never makes a mistake.”

During his tenure as head coach at the school, he develops such outstanding players as George Gipp [portrayed memorably by Ronald Regan], who dies prematurely from a strep infection. While on his deathbed Regan as Gipp gives this memorable quote “Rock, sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.“ This great quote earned the #89 on a poll of AFI 100 Years…100 Quotes! It’s been used time and time again including by Ronald Regan as a political slogan!

 Also during Rockne’s famed career were the Four Horseman while introducing many innovative tactics including the backfield shift. The football game action puts you right there on the field and makes you fell as though you’re a part of the team! Also look for a cameo by legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Rockne, known for his staccato motivational speeches, devotes his life to maintaining the integrity of the sport he loves and promoting it as an integral component in the development of the American character. This film accurately shows the life and times of one of the greatest football coaches ever.

In 1997, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

O’Brien’s movie career more or less ended in the early 1950s. He had to move to the new media of television; O’Brien later wrote he was completely flummoxed about this in his autobiography The Wind At My Back. His close friend Spencer Tracy had to fight the studio to get a small role for O’Brien in Tracy’s film The Last Hurrah in 1958.

Television audiences would see O’Brien in such shows as Crossroads, What’s my Line, Joyful Hour, In 1960-1961 O’Brien joined Roger Perry in the 34-episode ABC sitcom, Harrigan and Son about a father-and-son team of lawyers. He would also be seen in 1981 in WKRP in Cincinnati and in 1982 in Happy days

O’Brien had a small role as Burt Reynolds’s father in the 1978 comedy film The End, opposite Myrna Loy, who played Reynolds’s mother.

Pat O’Brien died on October 15, 1983 from a heart attack, aged 83. Pat had more than one hundred screen credits to his resume when he passed away!

Knute Rockne All American is truly Pat O’Brien at his best. Knute Rockne All American is much more than a football film; it‘s an inspiring tale of a man who followed his heart and had true success and touched many lives!

So until next time this is Jason Lockard saying if you want to see a good movie check out a classic!

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Moral Rating: Nothing Offensive
Audience: Family
Genre: Sports Drama
Length: 86 min.
Released: 1940
Our Rating: A