Trouble Along the Way (1953)

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Melville Shavelson & Jack Rose

When researching titles for my Football marathon, I was hoping to find a few like Trouble Along the Way. I had never heard of the film, but quickly saw that Hollywood legend John Wayne starred (seriously, other than a cowboy, a football player/coach is the dream role for Wayne). Michael Curtiz also caught my eye as the director. While Curtiz is not a legendary filmmaker, he would likely fall somewhere in the next few tiers. Curtiz was perhaps more craftsman than most auteurs, but his resume is still impressive with titles like CasablancaThe Adventures of Robin HoodMildred Pierce, and more. He always seemed to have made solid, entertaining films, not dissimilar to Lloyd Bacon (Knute Rockne All American), but also on a much higher level than Bacon. So with the pairing of a director I know and like, and a lead actor I know and love, what could go wrong? Well, of course there was Trouble Along the Way.

As the head of small Catholic college St. Anthony’s, Father Burke (Charles Coburn) must find a way to raise enough money to keep the school open. Motivated by having spent his entire life at St. Anthony’s, Father Burke turns to football as a way to save the school. But with a terrible team, Father Burke turns to outcast coach Steve Williams (John Wayne). Once a brilliant football mind, he was cast out of big time college ball for recruiting violations. As he starts to revive St. Anthony’s, Williams must also contend with Alice Singleton (Donna Reed), who is there to evaluate Steve’s ability to care for his daughter after a divorce. Soon enough, St. Anthony’s is rolling on the field, but Steve is finding trouble off of it as he once again becomes involved in a recruiting scandal all the while fighting to retain custody of his daughter.

Who knew that a movie directed by Michael Curtiz starring John Wayne playing a football coach could be so….boring? I was really excited at the prospects of this film, and perhaps that’s my fault, but what resulted was a rather loud dud. Wayne is fine in the role, it’s certainly not his fault the movie is boring, but I think the screenplay and direction was seriously lacking throughout this film. The story just seems to slog along without ever giving any story line its proper due. The characters here are interesting, but with everything seemingly going on, there isn’t enough room to hold everyone in a tight film.

The Donna Reed side story especially seemed distracting. Making the struggle between Steve and his daughter and Alice, the agent assigned to rule on the custody case is extremely forced. Alice is inserted only for romance purposes, and the added trouble of Steve dealing with a custody battle is superfluous, even as they try to use it as evidence that Steve is really a good guy. I just wasn’t convinced and could have done without it. Father Burke’s story was rather fascinating. Perhaps there would have been more time to spend with him and his history with the school, desire to save it, etc. Having gone to Catholic school as a kid, and having known a clergyman who taught at my high school for upwards of 40 years, Burke was one of the more interesting characters to me.

The focus of this marathon is to find interesting movies that evolve around football. The first thing I look for is whether or not the movie is any good (spoiler: I didn’t like Trouble Along the Way), but the secondary thing to look for is the football action itself. Here, there is some decent action, but like the first few films in the marathon, much of the action looks more like news reel style than choreographed for the film. The most interesting aspect of this film was the inclusion of recruiting, obviously something specific to college football (and we have yet to have a pro game movie). It’s not explored at depth, but adds a new layer. All that said, Trouble Along the Way wasn’t a good movie no matter how you inspect it. It may bring some new things to the table in terms of the genre, but ultimately it’s not entertaining enough, and that’s the most important thing.

** 1/2 – Average

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