The World's Greatest Athlete
|The World's Greatest Athlete|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Scheerer|
|Produced by||Bill Walsh|
|Written by||Dee Caruso
Roscoe Lee Browne
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|February 14, 1973|
The World's Greatest Athlete is a 1973 American feature film released by Walt Disney Productions. It starred John Amos, Roscoe Lee Browne, Tim Conway, Dayle Haddon, and Jan-Michael Vincent. It is one of the few wide-release Hollywood sports films to look at the world of track and field, as the "World's Greatest Athlete," Nanu, played by Vincent, tries to make history by winning every event at the NCAA Track & Field Championship.
In a series of establishing shots, Sam Archer (Amos) and his assistant Milo Jackson (Conway) are depicted as coaches at the fictitious Merrivale College; their teams invariably lose. A series of plot coincidences sends the pair to Africa, where they catch sight with their Safari guide Morumba (Don Pedro Colley) of the Tarzan-like Nanu, who can outrun a cheetah in full bound.
Seeing this, the coaching staff quickly whip out their recruitment pen and papers, but soon fall (literally) into the clutches of Nanu's godfather, spiritual leader Gazenga (Browne) whose assistant (Clarence Muse) remains in Africa. Nanu, it develops, is an orphan and an innocent child of the bush. Gazenga believes that throwing Nanu into the world of competitive United States college athletics would interfere with his spiritual development.
Despite Gazenga's concerns, the ambitious coaches persuade Nanu to join the Merrivale College program. From this point forward, the plot is driven by a combination of slapstick and suspense, for Nanu's destiny as the World's Greatest Athlete will annoy several powerful people who are used to getting their way.
Nanu's innocence, Archer's scheming, Jackson's ineptitude, Gazenga's outraged wisdom, and the Machiavellian plotting of the villains all play roles in the action as the movie heads toward the final track meet. The atmosphere of American competition does indeed threaten Nanu, but he is saved from disintegration by love interest Jane Douglas (Haddon). Jane and Nanu's budding relationship angers rival Leopold Maxwell (Danny Goldman), whose attempts to sabotage the budding star build toward a crescendo as the ultimate competition approaches. The climactic track meet is peppered with commentary by ABC-TV sportscaster Howard Cosell, playing himself.
The movie ends with a framing device in which the hapless coaches are depicted trying to recruit a new athletic phenomenon, this time in China.
Much of the film was shot at University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California, and in the Newhall neighborhood of Santa Clarita, California. The live-action jungle scenes were shot at Caswell Memorial State Park, on the Stanislaus River outside of Ripon, California.
Nanu's closest companion is a pet tiger named Harry, which he brings with him from Africa to California; however, tigers are not native to Africa. Nanu explains that the tiger emigrated from India to Africa as a cub.
The movie was one of the most popular releases of 1973, earning $10,600,000 in North American rentals that year.
Upon the film's release, The New York Times wrote: "it's a dream that is more often simple-minded than simple and generally as hilarious as finishing fourth in the mile run. It should be stressed, however, that this ribbing of the Tarzan myth runs a good, clean course that should grab all red-blooded sports fans up to and including the 14-year-old group. It might be added that everyone from coach Amos to Jan-Michael Vincent, in the title role, athletically tries without much success to make all this good-natured nonsense funny".
- "The World's Greatest Athlete, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 27, 2012.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- The New York Times, February 5, 1973 Screen: 'Greatest Athlete': Disney College Farce Is at the Music Hall By A. H. Weiler