The first of two about memorable 1979 sports films. No prizes for guessing the other.
The Jericho Mile is a 1979 film starring Peter Strauss, written and directed by Michael Mann, one of his earliest films and the one that made his career. Made For TV movies were common in the 1970s and 1980s, and The Jericho Mile is considered one of the best. Strauss received an Emmy award for his performance.
Strauss plays Larry “Rain” Murphy, convicted of first degree murder (shooting his father after finding him rape his step-sister). Murphy remains a loner in prison, running to keep mentally free. One of the prison staff secretly times him, noting that Murphy’s mile times are near Olympic level, the story building to the point where Murphy is considered for Olympic trials. The story contains several subplots of support, opposition, and manipulation – the prison administration, prison gangs (Brian Dennehy as leader of the white gang), USOC officials. The only ones fully on his side are his lone friend in prison (R.C. Stiles, played by Richard Lawson) the state track and field coach who trains him (Ed Lauter). Others have done better and longer writeups, so I’ll avoid spoilers and let their words speak for themselves. The cafeteria scene is still a tearjerker.
Peter Strauss was 32 at the time of filming and trained for the role with UCLA coaches and runners. He was reportedly running a 4:30 mile at the time – not good enough to qualify for the Olympics, but fast enough that you can suspend disbelief for a movie. Sports movies vary in believability. Some actors look the part and you can believe they are doing it (e.g. Rob Brown in “The Express”), others not so much (too many baseball movies to mention). Strauss definitely looks the part.
For now, the full film can be found on youtube. It’s worth watching.