The search for one’ self and the belief in football – both reigned supreme in the 1970s and were combined in the book that resulted in the film Semi-Tough.
Written by Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins, Semi-Tough looked at the world of football and the psychology of what players did to get the edge with a comedic touch.
Adapted for the screen by Walter Bernstein, the film took on the trends for self-help groups, new religions and the Human potential movement, mixing these hot topics into a parody with its environment of the careers of two professional football players.
Marvin “Shake” Tiller, played by Kris Kristofferson and Billy Clyde Puckett, played by Burt Reynolds, are best friends, football players for the Miami Bucks and in love with the same woman, Jill Clayburgh, who played Barbara Jane Bookman, the daughter of the team owner.
The film shows their lives as pro players, surrounded by plenty of women and parties, but Tiller is looking for something more.
Tiller decides to boost his confidence on the playing field by enrolling in self-improvement classes called B.E.A.T (a satire of EST or Erhard Seminars Training).
Bookman decides to participate to get closer to Tiller but doesn’t understand or enjoy the classes. Meanwhile Puckett, who also loves Bookman, tries to understand the classes too, but doesn’t see any benefits unlike his best pal Tiller who believes in it, stating he’s not made a mistake since he started B.E.A.T.
The denouement of the story comes with the marriage of Tiller and Bookman despite the lack of support of B.E.A.T leader Friedrich Bismark, played by Bert Convy. The film garnered mixed reviews, but many critics cited Reynolds unique mix of good ol’ boy and charisma as a reason to see the film, since he portrayed a reality for many about the whole trend for self-improvement.
The parody of self-help was the favourite part for most movie-goers, despite the backbone of football in the film. I saw the film in a psychology class as we examined behavioural modification and the psychology of winning. It was interesting to see the influences revealed in the film on society, which so many of us think are things that only happen recently, but were very much in vogue in the 1970s.
Despite the critical comments, the film garnered an easy $24 million at the box office thanks to the major stars on the marquee, as well as a deal to develop a television pilot, which didn’t get made. But for the US, football is everything, and no matter what makes a must-see storyline for film.