Originally created 04/08/04

Lost causes often win at box office

Tis the season for long shots and lost causes. After a skin-of-his-teeth qualification, John Daly has once again been set loose on the fairways and greens of Augusta National. His appearance alone is something of a surprise, and should he win (hey, it could happen) it would mark one of the great underdog victories in Masters history.

And everyone loves the underdog.

Cinematically speaking, long shots and lost causes have long been fodder for filmmakers determined to dwell on situational drama. It's the reason the Alamo has fallen more than once on silver screens - it falls again in a new film opening Friday - and it's the reason we all weep when Rudy suits up for Notre Dame.

The idea of the little guy battling against the odds, of the overwhelmed force making that valiant last stand and of a David being a stone's throw away from victory or defeat is endlessly appealing.

Here are a few of my favorite last stands and lost causes:

GALLIPOLI (1981): For the better part of two hours, this Australian anti-war film seems to be a light piece of confection, a portrait of two athletes seeking harmless adventure. But the final 20 minutes, set in the trenches of the bloody World War I battle of Gallipoli, are a different animal altogether. A searing scene set with no happy ending in sight, it sucker-punches its audience with a powerful statement about what it is to win, to lose and to face the facts of life.

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936): Purportedly based on true events, this Crimean War epic plays fast and loose with the facts. Still, there is something stirring about military men rising to action against merciless oppressors. Besides, the final charge against impossible odds remains one of cinema's great horseback sequences.

THE WILD BUNCH (1969): Best remembered for its blood-soaked denouement, this affecting parable about the end of the Old West accomplishes more than elevating the ante on screen violence. Although the famous finale remains jaw-dropping in its body count, what makes it so effective is the emotional involvement the audience feels with this handful of outlaws making a final stand.

ROCKY (1976): This boxing film has had such legs because there is a certain part of all of us that responds to the Cinderella template. Boxing fan or no, the story of an underdog, driven by passion and beaten but unbowed, at the final curtain is endlessly appealing. Besides, Sylvester Stallone was never more on his game than when he was inhabiting the soul of this Philadelphia fighter.

BABE (1995): Only the most cynical of film fanciers can fail to be charmed about this little-pig-that-could tale. The story of a pig searching for purpose, it is a surprisingly complex piece of storytelling. But that's immaterial, because the payoff comes when, against all odds, Babe the pig becomes a first-class sheepdog.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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