“We’re a team that’s going places — and in no time, we’ll be the greatest in the world!”
Promoter Abe Saperstein (Dane Clark) and his assistant Inman Jackson (Sidney Poitier) bring the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team to fame.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ruby Dee Films
- Sidney Poitier Films
Never released on video or DVD, this underground cult favorite — directed by cinematographer James Wong Howe, and starring real-life Harlem Globetrotters Reece ‘Goose’ Tatum, ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton, and Marques Haynes — tells the inspirational story of the Trotters’ rise to fame during the first half of the 20th century. The story arc itself — small-time players make it big through talent, hard work, and the dogged perseverance of their committed leader — is rather conventional, as is the gratuitous subplot in which Saperstein meets and quickly weds his beauty-queen wife (Patricia Breslin). What’s much more interesting are the implicit racial dynamics at play, as the Trotters (considered merely clownish amateurs) repeatedly compete against “legitimate” all-white teams; one wishes this theme could be handled at least somewhat more overtly, though the film remains daring simply in its easy acceptance of (Jewish) Saperstein’s friendship with Poitier and the other team members.
It’s great fun to see the Trotters performing some of their classic routines — and even for non-sports fans, the final climactic game (against the Chicago Majors) is genuinely thrilling! Sidney Poitier (just 27 years old) is fine if a tad underused in one of his earliest roles, while “everyman” actor Dane Clark projects just the right level of enthusiasm and energy required of iconoclast Saperstein. It’s interesting to note that, with the exception of a few unusual camera angles, there isn’t really much evidence here of Howe’s masterful camerawork (though to be fair, it’s hard to accurately assess this, given the damaged quality of the bootleg I secured). Film fanatics will be curious to learn that the movie’s producer and screenwriter, Alfred Palca, was blacklisted and had his name taken off the film (the pseudonym Arnold Becker was used instead); click here to read more.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Dane Clark as Abe Saperstein
- Enjoyable footage of the Trotters’ comedic moves
- The incredibly exciting final game of the film
- Slim Galliard’s jazzy score
Yes, as an underground cult favorite.