Victory is the prize.
Sometimes the simple, direct approach is the most effective. But if everything else is eliminated, it can leave an overly simplistic impression of the event. The Junction Boys takes one period of a man's life, and for good or for bad labels it the defining profile of the individual. Whether or not you agree will depend on your own experiences.
Facts of the Case
The year is 1954, and no man wants to play second fiddle to someone else. Despite his success at Kentucky, Kentucky will always be a basketball school, and football, even with the legendary "Bear" running things, will have to fight for every scrap of recognition it can muster. So in a huff of indignation, Paul "Bear" Bryant leaves Kentucky to be the head coach of the Texas A&M College football team (A&M not yet A&M University).
A&M has a proud program, but recently has been plagued with failure. The arrogant alumni all expect great things from the legendary coach, especially since their sons are on the team. But the Bear makes it clear upfront that some major changes are going to be made around here on how things are run. When 100 hopeful young boys report for training camp at the end of the summer, they think they are headed for the usual pre-season good time. What they find, however, is a veritable hell on earth out in the middle of nowhere called Junction, Texas. A drought-plagued auxiliary campus, more than 200 miles from the main campus, the temperature hovers somewhere around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The conditions are brutal, but Bryant's determination to win is punishing. He runs his camps like Paris Island, Marine style. If you are hurt, suck it up. Can't take it? Quit, he'll even provide a bus ticket home and a PB&J sandwich. But one thing is certain, if any of these boys survive, they'll come out of it men, and know what it takes to play football for the Bear.
There is a lot to the story of Paul Bryant. Who he is, where he came from, what made him into the legend that still lives in the South today. Junction, Texas was just one stop on the long road of his life, but the impact it made on him he would carry for the rest of his days.
Based off the book by Jim Dent, the movie The Junction Boys focuses with almost microscopic detail on a few short weeks of Bryant's career with Texas A&M. Forget everything he did later with Alabama, or all the events before 1954; this story is about training camp. Bryant says late in the movie that football is war, so for your viewing pleasure here are 100 boys going through basic.
The main story is straightforward and hardly strays from its path. Even the minor side stories fit into the context of the main event, which is Bryant's inhuman drive to turn boys into football players that will win only for him. Aside from about fifteen minutes at the beginning and the end, the whole 93 minutes of the film illustrates this brutal pounding the boys will go through like a loyal dog obeying its master. Utilizing psychological torture to pit his own players against each other, they beat themselves into the ground trying to please their unrelenting taskmaster.
As football movies go, The Junction Boys isn't the most entertaining to watch actual football playing. Just a sampling of recent football movies, including Remember the Titans, Any Given Sunday, The Waterboy, Varsity Blues, The Replacements, and Rudy all contain much more action on the field and off than what is presented here, but admittedly they all are focusing on different aspects of the game.
Playing the role of the Bear is Tom Berenger (Major League) who is no stranger to the tough guy role. But surprisingly, this role doesn't demand too much to fill. Granted, casting David Schwimmer as the Bear would probably have been a mistake, but they ably avoided that mistake by keeping the acting required to a minimum and screen presence and sheer intimidation factor high. The entire movie has Bryant presented as the hard-as-nails-stubborn-as-a-mule-I-don't-care-how-big-you-are-or-who-your-daddy-is-I-can-still-knock-you-on-your-butt persona. It is straightforward and forceful, but it works, so don't expect anything subtle.
The rest of the cast is primarily filled by the young players trying to make the team. One hundred white farm boys, all in uniform, it is very difficult to tell any of them apart, as they become cattle on the screen. They do an adequate job at playing the worn out, tired and abused Aggie hopeful, but after sweating away 20 pounds after a grueling day of filming, almost anyone could have filled the roles of walking sacks of potatoes they become.
The DVD is presented in 1.33:1 full screen as it originally premiered on ESPN. Colors are dusty and dominated by yellows, but the print contains little dust or scratches. Some edge enhancement is visible, but overall the print is as good as when it first aired.
The sound is only given in Dolby Surround 2.0 in English without English subtitles (so you'll have to check out the French or Spanish ones if you missed the line). Not very engaging, the levels are all equal with little hiss or popping, but nothing noteworthy either. A 5.1 mix wouldn't necessarily have helped, for there is little in the video that would merit extended aural devices like directional effects.
The extra features when combined are just about as long as the main feature, and probably give a more complete presentation than just the movie alone. Both are presented professionally without any major audio or visual defects, and are very informative for the casual viewer.
The first is a SportsCentury feature on Paul "Bear" Bryant. Interviews with former teammates, friends, and players, the 45-minute documentary shows the majority of the Bear's life story and why he is so loved and respected even today, more than 20 years after his death.
The second and only other extra feature is "Outside The Lines: The Real Junction Boys." This investigative feature shows the realities of those who actually went through it, and where they are today. The Reality vs. the Fiction so to speak. The two of these features watched after watching the main movie evenly balance out any false impressions that the movie can inadvertently generate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As inspirational movies go, this isn't one I'd recommend for young NFL hopefuls to watch before their own pre-season training camp. The dangers the players go through in the movie—no rest, no water, no complaining—are a few notches below concentration camps. It is truly amazing that no one died at Junction, especially with people falling over unconscious of heat stroke and playing with broken spines. There are other ways to form a cohesive team that will perform well together, and the lengths that they went to at Junction are not the best.
College football fans and sport fans in general would be remiss to pass up this exposé on the Bear, but those with a passing interest could do a lot worse for an evenings rent. ESPN has put together a good disc, once you get past the shameless self-promotion clips at the very beginning of the DVD.
Paul "Bear" Bryant's methods are found guilty on all charges, but the man himself is exonerated. Winning isn't everything, Coach. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• SportsCentury Feature on Paul "Bear" Bryant
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