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21st Century Sports in Three, 20th Century Movies
"The 10th Victim" (1965), "Death Race 2000" (1975), and "Rollerball" (1975) are set in the 21st century. The premise of each movie revolves around the most popular sport in the world. Most movies about the future say more about the time the movie was made than about the future. This is true of these 3 movies. These movies depict violent sports. The competitors are all willing participants. Thankfully none of the sports depicted in these movies exist. The influence of these movies may have been greater than people expected at the time or realize today. This article contains spoilers.
The 10th Victim
In this version of the 21st century people hunt each other for sport. The setting is Manhattan. A man (George Wang) is hunting Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress). A police officer stops the man and asks to see his license. After the officer sees the license the officer lets him continue hunting. Caroline seems to enjoy being hunted. The scenes switch between the hunt and a club where a man (Jacques Herlin) tells the patrons the hunt’s rules. Caroline runs into the club and the hunter follows her. There she kills him with a bra gun for the patrons’ entertainment.
This was Caroline’s 9th kill. The kill earned her some money and whatever the club paid her for the show. The grand prize of $1 million is for the 10th kill. A company offers to pay Caroline to film her 10th kill as part of the company’s advertising campaign. Since she was the “victim” in the last hunt she would be the “hunter” in the 10th hunt. This gives her the advantage since she would know the identity of the victim and where the victim lives. The victim, Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni), lives in Rome. “The Eternal City” offered many wonderful venues to film the killing.
Killing the wrong person is an automatic 30-year jail sentence. A victim can’t just kill anyone who looked suspicious. Marcello’s ex-wife emptied his bank account. This meant Marcello didn’t have enough money to make a good defense. Marcello started a sun worshiping cult as a scheme to make money. It worked until a moon worshiping cult made a habit of disrupting his services. He still continues with the cult. He also hides his parents in his house so they wouldn’t be euthanized. This is a common practice in Italy. America is a free fire zone for the hunt. In Italy churches, restaurants, and some other places are off limits for the hunt.
Caroline gets close to Marcello so she can lure him to the desired venue for the kill. This involves romance and the questions are will Caroline go through with the killing and will Marcello figure out Caroline is his hunter. The ending goes through a series of twists.
An example of the film’s dark humor is a scene where a man guns down a woman (Evi Rigano). The police verify the killing was part of the hunt and legal. Then the police officer tells the killer he is parked illegally and would be given a ticket.
The justification for the game is some people have homicidal or suicidal tendencies and the game permits them to act out these tendencies in a controlled manner. A character justifying the game claims had it been around at the time Hitler would have joined the game and World War II would have been avoided.
The New York Daily News gave the movie 4 stars, unusual considering the times and type of movie. The futuristic dress and musical score dated it as a 1960s film. Most of the movie’s futuristic technology is mentioned, such as body armor skin and bullet proof underwear, rather than shown.
“The 10th Victim” may have been the inspiration for the mock assassination games that began on college campuses in 1981[i]. These campus games spawned the movies “TAG: The Assassination Game” (1982) and “Gotcha” (1985).
[i] At St. Mary’s University in San Antonio the game was called “Death Wish”.
Death Race 2000
The 1975 movie’s tagline is; “In the year 2000 hit and run driving is no longer a felony. It’s the national sport!” The premise is to control overpopulation there is a cross country road race. The racers gain points by running over people. In the opening scene people are in the stands awaiting the start of a sports event. All seems normal until the camera shows some of the fans waving swastikas. Each car has a driver and a navigator. The cars and participants have professional wrestling type names. The swastikas are for the team driving the car “buzz-bomb” with Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) its driver and Herman the German (Fred Grady[i]) its navigator.
The main protagonist is Frankenstein (David Carradine), his navigator is Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth). Frankenstein want to win so he can meet and assassinate the president (Sandy McCallum).[ii] Some people oppose the race and plan to kill the competitors. A couple of the competitors meet comical ends at the hands of these racing opponents.
Some fans willingly put themselves in front of their favorite driver’s car. While rarely this extreme in real life people do some strange things to get some fleeting fame. Frankenstein’s closest rival is Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone).
The movie was a box office success. Its budget was around $300,000 and it grossed 8 million at the box office in the USA and picked up an additional $270,337 in Sweden.[iii] Thanks to Sylvester Stallone’s success with “Rocky” the video sales of “Death Race 2000” got a good boost.
That many in the audience were amused by the murders in the movies upset some people when the movie was in the theaters. That an arcade game with the movie’s theme was made also upset some people. The movie also had some nudity, which audiences were used to by 1975.
In “Death Race 2000” each team consisted of a man and a woman. They were partners in both senses of the word. Two of the five teams had women as the drives with men as the navigators. This was a relatively novel example of sexual equality in the movies for the time. The movie spawned a remake “Death Race”[iv] (2008) and a sequel “Death Race 2050” (2017). The 2008 remake also spawned a sequel “Death Race 2” (2010). Interestingly in the 2008 remake all the drivers were men and the women navigators[v] didn’t have any contact with the men outside the race.
[i] In an interesting coincidence Fred Grady played the Ship’s Purser ‘Gopher’ on the TV series “The Love Boat”. The Ship’s Doctor Bernie Kopell who played the character Siegfried on the TV series “Get Smart”.
[ii] The main protagonist in the 2000 movie Gladiator had a similar motivation.
[iii] United Sates Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072856/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus, last accessed 9/4/2017.
[iv] This movie should not be confused with the 1973 made for TV war movie “Death Race”
[v] In “Death Race” (2008) one driver was a homosexual and had male navigators.
This movie revolves around the worldwide pastime Rollerball. The game has a roller derby type track. Some players are on rollers skates and other players are on motorcycles. All the players are men. The object of the game is to put a steel ball inside a hole.
Rollerball is a dangerous game and player deaths are common. The game has rules for example running over an opposing player with a motorcycle is a time penalty. As with other contact sports players sometimes take a penalty to help their team in the game.
This future view is of a corporate world. This corporate world solved the 20th century ills. There are no wars and no poverty or strife. The only thing The Corporation requires is obedience. The Corporation designed Rollerball for the purpose of showing the futility of individual effort. No player can be a superstar. A player’s only fame is as part of a winning team. This gives the flip side of team sports and by extension other group activities.
The Houston team wins a Rollerball game. Houston is 2 wins away from another world championship season. The television network is going to run a special on Houston’s star player and Rollerball superstar Jonathan E. (James Caan). The corporation wants Jonathan to use this special to announce his retirement. Johnathan balks and corporate executive Bartholomew (John Houseman) tries to talk Jonathan into changing his mind.
Beautiful women are viewed as corporate resources[i]. They are assigned as wives or mistresses. This is Jonathan’s grievance with The Corporation. Years earlier The Corporation reassigned his wife Ella (Maud Adams) to be the wife of a corporate executive. Jonathan went on a search to find out how The Corporation made its decisions.
This is a major futuristic miss for this movie. There was a large mainframe computer that was the main repository for all records. The day he went to this computer center the computer lost all records on the 13th century. The computer is unable to answer Jonathan’s question about corporate decisions.
The Corporation changed the game’s rules to make the game more dangerous. The Corporation wanted Jonathan to realize the danger and retire. Jonathan didn’t retire. In the game against Tokyo Jonathan’s teammate and best friend Moonpie (John Beck) is left brain dead from his injuries. Jonathan refuses to sign the release to unplug Moonpie.
Ella returns to Jonathan. It starts out as a reuniting of old lovers. Jonathan shares his thoughts about society. He explains; “It’s like people has a choice a long time ago between having all them nice things or freedom.” Ella retorts; “But comfort is freedom. It always has been. The whole history of civilization is a struggle against poverty and need.” Jonathan isn’t convinced and tells her they want him to retire. She advises him to retire then tells him the rule changes for the championship game. There will be no substitutions and no time limit. She points out that means all the players will die. Jonathan realizes Ella is a bribe and she is just an obedient corporate servant. Jonathan goes to his home’s entertainment center where old videos of he and Ellla are playing. In front of Ella he presses the erase button to videos of he and Ella’s life together.
The championship game progresses as the corporate executives expected. Jonathan prevails but he doesn’t lead a revolution and there is no regime change. As of 2017 there hasn’t been a sequel. There was a remake in 2002 which had little in common with the original outside the game’s construct. The film inspired the 1999 TNN sports show "RollerJam", which ran 12 episodes.[ii]
[i] This is similar to Soylent Green (1973) which referred to women as “furniture”.
[ii] United States Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073631/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv, last accessed 9/17/2017.