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TV Movie review: King of the Olympics

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King of the Olympics:

The Life and Loves of Avery Brundage

The story opens in 1952, centering on an important event in the life of 65-year-old Avery Brundage, who was known as the father of the modern day Olympics. It then flashes back to his boyhood in the 1890’s and onward through his life, covering events from his college days through his later successes as a builder and his role in supporting and guiding the Olympics throughout his life.


Brundage as a boy developed an interest in the ancient Greek Olympic games and the then newly recreated (1896) Modern Olympics. His view of the Olympic games was that sportsmanship and competition with those from other nations could eventually mean worldwide communication and friendship between nations without the need for wars.


As a young gifted engineering student, then engineer and prosperous builder, he made it his goal to train for and qualify to compete in the Olympics.  He competed in Stockholm in 1912 along with the famous Jim Thorpe and would have been in the 1916 Olympics as well had they not been cancelled due to WWI.  This blow made him more determined than ever that the Olympics should be above international politics and he worked for the rest of his life toward helping it attain that goal.   To this end he became involved in and eventually rose to the presidency of the Amateur Athletic Union, the US Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. His idealistic goal became rather challenging to achieve both before and during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  The event -- which is covered extensively about 2/3 into this movie -- became quite a balancing act for Brundage, who was trying to maintain the neutrality of the games while at the same time Hitler was trying to use it as a showcase for the policies and politics of Nazi Germany.


We also see him sacrificing a personal life to achieve these goals.  He married relatively late to a woman past childbearing years, but when in his 60’s he had a long-term love affair with a much younger woman with whom he had two sons – a scandalous thing in the 1950’s had the information come out, as his wife refused to give him a divorce. Eventually this relationship, too, suffered, due to his singleminded devotion to the Olympics and he died – alone – two years after losing the presidency of the International Olympic Committee.


Some interesting cinematic effects were used throughout the film.  When it goes to real life events, like the 1912 Olympics, it cuts to B &W newsreel footage, which then fades into black and white with the current actors then slowly to color to show the actors picking up the roles.  Another interesting cut was when, during the Depression, Avery comes back from the bankers to his workers with the news that he is keeping the business going.  They hoist him on their shoulders, and their shouts of “Av-ry, Av-ry” go on and on changing into the sounds of Sieg Heil and a fade to German crowds giving the Nazi salute. 


Unfortunately what worked well at the beginning of the piece, where the story told had more of a linear narrative structure, became something of an annoyance as it continued through with every Olympic game. At some point between the Stockholm and Berlin

Olympics, the story begins to be told in a series of jumps backward and forward through time to pertinent scenes.  This to me weakened the remaining story and reduced it to a series of not very well connected vignettes.  Apparently there was so much story to tell that this was the only way to get it into the limited time allowed and a longer miniseries format was not an option.  Thus, I feel the time spent on long establishing shots for each Olympics could have been better spent in telling the story in a less condensed fashion.


The cast as a whole carried off their roles well.  Selby is the only “name” I spotted in the cast list, which apparently means they were casting for acting ability rather than TV Q ratings.  All the actors did a convincing job with their characters, though someone more familiar with the real life people being portrayed may see things I didn’t.  I would advise people to keep an eye open for the role of Houseboy, played by (Jamison) Todd Selby.  I had forgotten that this was the movie he was in and thus missed catching him on this first viewing.


Most of the film rests on David Selby, and he carries off the role quite well.  He takes the character plausibly from the 20’ish smart alecky college student who reads the paper in math class because he already KNOWS  -- and can demonstrate that he knows – the problems already, through to the 80ish man who sees the potential death of his lifelong dream with the terrorist attack on the 1972 Olympics.  To his credit he immersed himself in the character to an extent where I didn’t see any of the “signature” gestures that many actors carry from role to role. Also on the plus side, he DID use gestures and different ways of moving to put across the aging of the character above and beyond the work of the makeup.


The makeup people did a very good job of plausibly aging the then mid 40ish Selby to resemble the older Brundage from his 50’s through his 80s, complete with thinning hair, extremely receding hairline and combover.  Though I do find it an amusing aside that when aged to be in his 60’s he didn’t resemble the way he looks now so much as he looked like Alan Alda looks now….


In short, this movie is well worth watching.  It was originally aired in 1988 but has just recently become available from the on line video service Cinemanow.  It can be downloaded for rental at $2.99/24hours or can be purchased at a reasonable price of $9.99.  Fair warning: you MUST have Windows Media Player 10 to play this and I recommend a LOT of empty hard drive space and a broadband connection.  The film runs just shy of three hours and my download came to close to 2Gig.


Here’s the link to the King of the Olympics page.  And, since there is a picture of Selby from the film shown on that page, here’s a link to a picture and a short bio of the REAL Avery Brundage for comparison.

Article is @April 2006 by JMW. Please do not copy any part of this article without requesting permission.

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