Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Robby Benson Takes on Collegiate Sports Corruption

Robby Benson in One on One.
It's conceivable that One on One was originally intended as a serious expose of corruption in collegiate athletics...a topic as timely today as it was in 1977. But, like so many other star vehicles, it was ultimately tailored for its lead actor's target demo--which in the case of Robby Benson was comprised largely of teenage girls.

It's easy to forget that, for the better part of a decade, Robby Benson was one of Hollywood's most reliable stars. Originally, he specialized in playing sensitive youths in films like Jeremy (1973), Death Be Not Proud (1975), and Ode to Billy Joe (1976). He later expanded his repertoire by playing romantic leads (Ice Castles), estranged sons (Tribute), and, in perhaps his best performance, a Hasidic Jew in The Chosen (1981).

In One on One, he is typecast as Henry Steele, a gawky lad from rural Colorado who happens to play a mean game of basketball. A big-time coach recruits him to play for Western University, a nationally-ranked basketball power located in L.A. Henry is so naive that he's conned by a young hitchhiker (Melanie Griffith) before he even reaches campus.

Once enrolled, Henry enjoys the many perks of being a basketball scholarship player. He receives a stipend from the alumni, gets two tickets per home game which can be sold for $300 each, and is hired for a campus job that requires him to simply turn the football field sprinklers on and off (by the way, it turns out they're on a timer). He also has a car, which his basketball-obsessive father bought for him with money provided by his coach.

Seals & Crofts sing on the soundtrack.
Unfortunately, things aren't going as well on the basketball court. No longer a star player, he struggles to keep up with his teammates and loses his confidence. It continues to worsen to the point that his demanding coach (G.D. Spradlin) "asks" Henry to renounce his scholarship. To his coach's surprise, Henry refuses to quit and the rest of the film becomes a test of wills between coach and player. Stripped of all his perks, the young man becomes physically tougher, emotionally stronger, and more responsible (he even gets a job as a night clerk on his own).

Annette O'Toole.
Benson, who co-wrote the script, is likable enough as Henry. My main problem with One on One is that Henry is either too naive or a hypocrite. He appears to have no ethical problems with accepting the perks, which are obvious rule violations. Assuming Henry couldn't grasp this key point, one would think that his father, his high school coach, or his intelligent girlfriend (a winning Annette O'Toole) might have explained it to him.

Instead, the climatic confrontation between Henry and his college coach is all about what's best for Henry. It would have made for a harder-hitting film had Henry reported his coach and the university for being cheaters. I also think Henry could have sounded a little more beastly.

He mastered that a few years later, though, when he voiced the Beast (and showed off his singing voice) in Disney's charming, Oscar-nominated 1991 musical The Beauty and the Beast.

1 comment:

  1. I know I would love this movie if I were a teenage girl. I saw a re-run of "Death Be Not Proud" some years ago, and I sobbed like a baby. (It would be interesting to watch it again to see if the film has the same effect.) "One on One" might still be an interesting movie, teenage girls notwithstanding...