In 1954 the basketball team from the small town of Milan, Indiana, led by Bobby Plump, achieved the ultimate Cinderella-story ending when it captured the states High School Basketball Championship.
Coach Norman Dale (Hackman) has been given a second chance. Under a cloud of mystery the former big time college coach has accepted the position as teacher and coach at the small town Hickory high school. Coach Dale has many ideas, most of them that go against what the teams players and fans have been used to. A row on the first day of practice causes a couple players to quit, leaving the team with six players to start the season. Coach Dale has heard about another player, Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis), who isn’t playing this year. He’s also warned to stay away from Jimmy by another teacher, Myra Fleener (Hershey) who feels Jimmy can get out of the small town by using his mind, not his skill with a leather ball.
The season gets off to a bad start, with the team and town rebelling against Coach Dale’s ways. But Jimmy takes notice. When the town meet to dismiss Coach Dale Jimmy makes an appearance and says he wants to play, but only if the Coach is retained. With another second chance Coach Dale begins to mold the team the way they need to be molded. Along the way he also recruits the alcoholic father (Hopper, in an Academy Award nominated performance) to assist him as a coach, with the condition that he not drink. Coach Dale also sees the benefits in giving second chances.
An uplifting film that is often listed on the short list of the best sports films of all time, “Hoosiers” succeeds because basketball is secondary to the relationships portrayed. Coach Dale and the team. The town and the Coach. Coach and Myra. They are front and center with the game an exciting backdrop. The entire cast, from the stars to the untrained boys portraying the players, are outstanding. That Hopper also made “Blue Velvet” in the same year and was nominated for THIS performance is a reminder as to how good he is here. The emotions are real and director Anspaugh keeps the story moving. The musical score by Jerry Goldsmith (also Oscar nominated) is one of his best and captures perfectly the emotions of the film.
Blu-ray extras/details : This 25th Anniversary Edition looks great on Blu-ray with its 1080p transfer and presented in the original aspect ratio of 1:85.1. The audio on the film is also very impressive boasting a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and also a Dolby Digital 4.0 track. The special features are very impressive on this release. They include a Commentary track by Director David Anspaugh and Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, Documentary – “Hoosiers History”, Deleted scenes, Theatrical trailer and the real 1954 Championship game
In both the commentary and documentary, director Anspaugh (who would later go on to direct “Rudy”) and screenwriter Pizzo, both Indiana natives, describe in great deal how high school basketball is truly the life blood of Indiana. The documentary also features many famous Indiana basketball names, including Reggie Miller and Rick Carlisle. Also, many members of the 1954 Milan team, including Bobby Plump, relate their tale.
The deleted scenes are pretty standard…a lot of expositional stuff. The actor who suffers most is Hershey, who had a lot of her scenes with Hackman excised at the expense of the film’s running time. One scene fans of the film will welcome explains how Buddy, one of the boys who quit the team, suddenly reappears in the middle of the film as a player.
The gem of the extras is this old 16mm film, probably run in local gymnasiums to inspire other schools, of the 1954 Championship game in which small-town Milan defeated Muncie Central. A little trivia not included on the disc: to get to the final game Milan had to defeat Gerstmeyer Tech, which hailed from Terre Haute. Tech was led by future NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.