With the 2012 London Summer Olympics completed, we thought we’d help you combat the inevitable sense of loss that occurs when the flame goes out and the athletes pack for home. Here are five films to ease you back into an Olympics-less world, starting with a pair of moves where the summer games are the main focus, followed by a couple of movies with the games serve as mere backdrop and ending with musical where a couple of shapely nightclub performers simply happen to share an ocean voyage with a group of Olympians.
Commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to make a documentary of the 1936 Berlin Summer Games, Leni Riefenstahl delivered an artful and, at times, elegant record of athletic prowess and the body beautiful. That’s a surface account of what Olympia is all about. Behind the scenes, it was trick to finance, and Riefenstahl, the controversial director of the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935), first tried to get the esteemed German film studio UFA to supply the necessary cash. They declined, balking at the 500,000-mark budget—approximately three times what a standard film of the era cost. Tobis-Filmkunst ended up funding the project, which included footage of Adolph Hitler presiding at festivities where African-American sprinter Jesse Owens took home four gold medals. Later, when Riefenstahl came to America to find a distributor, she edited out many of the scenes involving the dictator.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
The Best Picture Oscar winner is a character study of two British athletes set against the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a devout Christian, running for God and following his conscience; Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is a Jew subject to profound anti-Semitism on the road to track-and-field victory. The moviemakers studied newsreels of Liddell that revealed little more than his style of running, which producer David Puttnam felt they got right in the film. When Puttnam showed the film to Liddell’s widow, she praised the way the picture captured her husband’s character, but felt they missed capturing the grace of her late husband’s sprinting technique.
Walk Don't Run (1966)
Cary Grant’s final film is a remake of The More the Merrier (1943) with Grant in the Charles Coburn role, Samantha Egger taking the Jean Arthur part, Jim Hutton assuming the Joel McCrea spot and Tokyo’s summer games substituting for Washington D.C.’s war years. The plot is all about a severe housing shortage, which sees Grant, Egger and Olympic race walker Hutton under one roof, with the expected romantic complications.
The Olympics are just the starting point for Steven Spielberg’s lean, suspenseful drama depicting the aftermath of the Black September terrorist act that saw 11 Israeli athletes held hostage and eventually killed at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. In the film, scripted by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Prime Minister Golda Meir endorses a secret plan where five men are chosen to avenge the killings. Based on George Jonas’s book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorism Team, the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
“Dibs on the shot putter,” says Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) to pal Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) in Howard Hawks’s splashy musical, which sees the two showgirls on board a ship that just happens to carry the United States Olympic team en route to the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics. One number in particular— Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson’s “Anyone Here for Love?”—nicely showcases Russell’s physique along with enough beefcake to make Joshua Logan blush.