Jim Thorpe – All-American

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Jim Thorpe – All-American
Jim Thorpe – All-American poster.jpg
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Everett Freeman
Written by Jim Thorpe (autobiography)
Russell Birdwell (biography)
Frank Davis (addl. dialogue)
Vincent X. Flaherty (adaptation)
Everett Freeman (screenplay)
Douglas Morrow (adaptation and screenplay)
Starring Burt Lancaster
Charles Bickford
Phyllis Thaxter
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 24, 1951 (1951-08-24)
Running time
107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,550,000 (US rentals)[1]

Jim Thorpe – All-American is a 1951 biographical film produced by Warner Bros. and directed by Michael Curtiz, honoring Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete who won medals at the 1912 Olympics and distinguished himself in various sports, both in college and on professional teams.

The film starred Burt Lancaster as Thorpe and featured some archival footage of both the 1912 and 1932 Summer Olympics, as well as other footage of the real Thorpe (seen in long shots). Charles Bickford played the famed coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, who was Thorpe's longtime mentor. Bickford also narrated the film, which told of Thorpe's athletic rise and fall, ending on an upbeat note when he was asked by a group of boys to coach them. Phyllis Thaxter portrayed Thorpe's first wife. Warner Bros. used a number of contract players in the film, as well as a few Native American actors.[2]

Plot[edit]

During a banquet, legendary football coach "Pop" Warner rises and gives a speech praising Jim Thorpe. This leads to a flashback.

Youngster Jim Thorpe runs all the way home before his first day at an Indian reservation school, but his father talks him into going back, telling him that he wants his son to make something of himself. Years later, a now-adult Jim arrives on the campus of Carlisle School to continue his education. He likes his roommates at the boarding school well enough, fast-talking Ed Guyac and the huge Little Boy Who Walk Like Bear, but nearly gets into a fight with upperclassman and football star Peter Allendine.

When the academic pressure becomes too much for him, Jim goes for a long run, during which he outraces some practicing track athletes. Witnessing this, coach Pop Warner talks Jim into joining the track team. Jim is so talented, versatile, and quick to learn that, at the next meet, Pop's team consists of just him (competing in all but the distance running events) and one other man. Jim by himself beats the other team. After a while, the newspapers are reporting his impressive feats.

Jim is attracted to another student, Margaret Miller, but has to compete for her affections with Peter. Seeing that football is more prestigious than track, he applies to join the football team. Pop, worried about losing most of his track team with a single injury, turns him down, then reluctantly gives in. However, he keeps Jim on the sideline. Finally, he lets Jim play in a game against Harvard, but only to kick the ball away. The first time, Jim is tackled for a loss before he can kick. The second time, he again has trouble catching the ball; about to be tackled, he starts running and scores a touchdown. Soon, he is a celebrated football star.

Jim tells Pop that he has finally figured out what he wants to do with his life: coach. Later, Pop tells him that scouts from a school looking for a coach will be in the crowd watching a showdown between Carlisle and an undefeated University of Pennsylvania juggernaut headed by another All-American, Tom Ashenbrunner. The teams end up in a 13-13 tie after Jim kicks a seemingly impossible field goal in the dying seconds. However, the job goes to the white Ashenbrunner. Jim suspects it is because he is an Indian.

By this time, he and Margaret are dating. Eventually, he tells he wants to marry her, in part because they belong together, as they are both Indians. When Margaret does not return for the new semester, Jim becomes despondent, particularly after he learns that Margaret is white. Pop arranges for Margaret to get a job as a nurse at the school, and steers Jim to her. They reconcile and get married.

Jim decides to become so famous someone will have to hire him as a coach. He enters the 1912 Olympics and wins both the pentathlon and the decathlon. However, when it is discovered that he was paid a pittance to play baseball one summer, he is disqualified and stripped of his medals and trophies because he is not an amateur.

Embittered, Jim turns to professional baseball and football to make a living. He and Margaret have a son, on whom he dotes. He envisions Jim Thorpe Jr. following in his footsteps and recapturing the glory stolen from him. However, the boy dies while Jim is away in Chicago with the Canton Bulldogs, sending him into a downward spiral. Eventually, Margaret leaves him.

Finally, Pop tracks him down, working as a lowly announcer at a dance marathon. Pop offers him a ticket to the opening of the 1932 Olympics, but Jim tears it up. Later, however, he tapes it back together and attends the ceremony. He reconciles with Pop and his resentment dissolves.

One day, he drives over a football that has gotten away from a group of kids. He buys a new one and presents it to the despondent bunch. Watching them play, he starts giving them pointers; they ask him to become their coach, lifting his spirits.

The film then returns to the banquet. Jim, who is in attendance, is inducted into Oklahoma's Hall of Fame.

Cast[edit]

Epilogue[edit]

Although the actual Jim Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic medals, as depicted in the movie, these honors were reinstated in 1983, thirty-two years after this film was released and thirty years after his death.

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  2. ^ Turner Classic Movies