“Touchdown”

September 8, 2008

Years after Charles graduated from Dartmouth, where he got his letter playing in the backfield of the Freshman and Varsity football teams, his class notes quote him as saying that “In all modesty, Charlie says he made more yardage for Paramount than for Dartmouth.”

Well, Charlie only made two football movies, this one, and “Start Cheering” where he plays a movie star who has a role as a football player.  Having seen them both, I have to guess that Charlie didn’t handle the ball much at Dartmouth.

This 1931 film is the fifth of seven films he would do for Paramount.  The film stars Richard Arlen as Dan Curtis, a former college football star, whose meteoric coaching career takes him to L & M College.  Paul Gehring (Starrett) is the son of a major contributor to the football program.  He plays half-back.  When we meet him, Paul is younger than any character Charlie would play (except for Ted Streaver in “Lady And Gent”) — he’s 17 and a big admirer of Dan’s, he even has a scrapbook full of pictures of Dan.  “Good looking youngster,” says Dan.

Dan’s big flaw is, as his college coach once told him, “sometimes you’re so crazy to win that you’re liable to pay too high a price to keep on the top side of the score.”

Paul is the star player on the team until he is knocked unconscious during a play.  Dan keeps him in and Paul wanders the field, punch drunk, missing passes and tackles.  At half-time, he passes out in the locker room.  The doctor says it’s a concussion and one more blow to the head will kill Paul.

This leads to the tough decision alluded to in the 1931 LA Times review of the film (see blog entry “LA Times Review of “Touchdown”).  Does Dan send in Charlie with the big game on the line?

Other than wearing a football uniform once and a while, this role is very close to many of Charles other early roles.  He’s young, dapper in a suit, and verbally playful.  He has a goofy sense of humor, pronouncing “silly” as “thilly”.   He does play this one awfully naive, and it’s believable.  He also gets the fun of acting distracted and addled for the second half of the film, after his head injury.

The film features a lot of cameo performances by football greats of the day, including Jim Thorpe.  Jack Oakie has a rather large part as the funny and big-hearted assistant coach Babe.   Jack would play a large role in Charlie’s next film, “Sky Bride.”

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The following appeared in the Nov. 15th, 1931 edition of the L.A. Times, page B13.

“INSIDE” OF FOOTBALL NOW TOLD

Former Dartmouth Back Awarded Role in Intimate Gridiron Tale

Charles Starrett, Dartmouth full-back in 1924 and 1925, is cast in one of the leading roles in “Touchdown”, a story humanizing the great American sport by revealing the intimate relationships of coaches and players, now at the Paramount Theater.

Coincidental to Starrett’s role in this picture is his football career.  Hurt as a freshman and recuperating during his sophomore year, the young actor first tried out for the Dartmouth varsity in his junior year.  His injured knee bothered him, however, and he was unable to make his letter.  In 1925, Starrett made a name for himself playing the first three games.  During the live-dummy tackle practice one day he dived for his man, missed him and sustained a badly cut eye and a broken nose.  Courage and pride in his position as a member of the team urged him on to continue in the game only to suffer further injuries.

After the game his coach realized the mistake in having let Starrett play.  “I’ll never take a chance like that again,” he told Starrett.

In “Touchdown” just such a situation develops when Richard Arlen, as coach, is faced with the decision of sending an injured player onto the field or keeping him off and chancing the loss of the big game.  The climax and his decision revolve around the fact that he has in his hands the life of a young college student and risks losing his fiance, who misunderstands his motive.

Well!  I will let you know what happens, tomorrow, when I view this film.