Critic reviews classic film for Welder Center's Summer Cinema

Aug. 6, 2014 at 12:27 p.m.

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture, "Breaking Away" proved to be the sleeper hit of 1979, a year when the top box office attractions included "Kramer vs. Kramer," "The Amityville Horror," "Apocalypse Now" and "Alien."

Peter Yates, who directed Steve McQueen in "Bullitt," decided to take a break from making big Hollywood films in order to direct this small Bloomington, Ind., coming-of-age story, which turned out to be one of the greatest inspirational films of all time.

Four best friends from Bloomington spend their first year after high school trying to figure out what to do with their lives. When they're not at the local swim hole, an abandoned quarry, the guys are usually in the town clashing with the students from Indiana University, who refer to the locals as "cutters" because of the local limestone industry in which those who chose not to go to college would usually end up as stone cutters.

Mike (Dennis Quaid) is the former high school quarterback and self-appointed leader of the group. Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) gets picked on for being the shortest; Cyril (Daniel Stern) doesn't get any support from his parents; and finally, there's Dave (Dennis Christopher), an avid cyclist and the only one out of the bunch who shows any kind of ambition.

Dave dreams of becoming an Italian professional road racing cyclist so much that he pretends to be Italian and now speaks with an accent.

He's also renamed the family's pet cat Fellini, blasts opera music from his stereo and convinces his mom (Barbara Barrie) to fix more Italian dishes like fettuccine.

All of this is driving Dave's dad (Paul Dooley) crazy because he doesn't understand why his son wants to be "eye-talian."

When Dave meets a college coed named Kathy (Robyn Douglass), he pretends to be a foreign exchange student, and that doesn't set well with Kathy's jock boyfriend.

Tensions mount between the university kids and the cutters, and so they decide to hash it out as they compete against each other in the film's big bike race finale, The Little 500.

The cast is great with Quaid in his breakout role (back then, he was just known as Randy Quaid's brother).

This was Stern's first role (11 years before "Home Alone"), the first grown-up role for Haley, who was already known for "The Bad News Bears," and the role that made Dennis Christopher a notable star at the time. Since then, he has continued to work steadily in TV roles, although he did pop up in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" in 2012.

Dooley and Barrie as Dave's parents provide the film's funniest moments, and Steve Tesich, an alumnus of Indiana University, won the 1979 Academy Award for best original screenplay.

He was inspired to write the screenplay by his friend Dave Blase, an American cyclist and former teammate who also had an appreciation for Italian culture.

"Breaking Away" stands the test of time, and it remains No. 8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Inspirational Films.

RATING: 4 stars



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