A young basketball phenom battles the business-driven machine of the major college coaching system. In so doing, he knows full well that his fully financed sports scholarship to a perennial basketball power is now at risk of being stripped away from him.
“One on One” (1977): Beautiful as a Buzzer Beater from Downtown!
Films that Forever Matter Series
by John Smistad
Summer of 1977
My good buddy Bruce and I were each about to head off to our first year of college. He to Florida. I would stay in Texas. It was hot. Are you kidding? It was August. In Houston.
Durn right it was HOT, pardner!
We were at Almeda Mall south of town. Looking for a movie to catch. And to escape the oppressive mid-90s heat and humidity in an air-conditioned multiplex theater with an ice-cold Coke and a whole bunch of butter-battered popcorn. One of the movie posters promoted a new flick called “One on One”. We didn’t know anything about it. Except that it was about basketball. Ardent sports fanatics that we were, we chose to to check this one out.
Little did I know
I could not have realized at that moment that over the next hour and 38 minutes, I was to be completely captivated by what would become one of my favorite films. Ever.
Loosely. Real loosely.
Based in the dramatically licensed principle of the UCLA college basketball dynasty of the 1960s and ’70s, “One on One” is a pure pleasure from tip-off to the final buzzer.
Robby Benson stars (and co-writes the script with his dad, Jerry Segal, who authored the book) as high school roundball phenom Henry Steele, coincidentally also just beginning his college career. Our small-town hero rapidly realizes that his flashy fashion of play does not mesh with old-school hard-ass Head Coach Moreland Smith (a shivery intimidating turn by G.D. Spradlin) at superpower “Western University”. The callous coach shows no mercy as he ruthlessly pressures the “hot dog” Henry into renouncing his full-ride scholarship.
The point must be made here that it is virtually inconceivable to conjure that this character of Smith is in any way a reflection of UCLA coaching legend John Wooden. Sure, the mastermind of a staggering ten National Championship ball clubs was renowned as a demanding taskmaster. Still, could “The Wizard of Westwood” ever have been this viciously vindictive?
I’m goin’ with “uh-uh”.
Hardwood meets Heat of Passion
Benson is more than credible in both his acting performance and in his basketball acumen. The guy can play. Annette O’Toole, as his tutor, turned lover Janet Hays, is utterly fetching and fabulous in her co-lead role. It is pretty damn difficult to imagine how any 18-year-old Freshman kid could NOT fall helplessly, head over sneakers in love with this red-hot redhead.
The so-‘70s Seals and Crofts soundtrack here is also a swish, the mellow melodies serving to imbue this sweet-to-sour-to-sweet story.
“One on One” remains for me a chronicle that continues to score by slam dunk as it deftly dribbles drives toward a predictable, yet irresistibly winning, final buzzer.
“One on One” is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.