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    Breaking Through

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    When Breaking Away (1979) first cycled onto America’s movie screens 37 years ago today, it was considered a small movie without marquee stars or dazzling special effects which required some careful nurturing on the part of Twentieth Century Fox. The studio already had the summer blockbuster Alien in its pocket but little else among the films from the first half of the year with the exception of the prestige drama Norma Rae had any box-office traction. Something unique happened with Breaking Away, though. It not only won over audiences and critics with its tale of underdog townies in Bloomington, Indiana, taking on the slick fraternity collegians in a regional bicycling race, it proved downright potent as a long-running holdover hit in theaters, scoring as both an aspirational tale as well as a recruitment vehicle for the sport of cycling. Writer and Indiana University alumnus Steve Tesich (who would win an Academy Award® and National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics and Writers Guild Awards for his heartfelt screenplay) had a two-wheel history, which included competition in Indiana’s Little 500 bicycle race. Director Peter Yates (an Englishman renowned for the speedy pyrotechnics of Robbery, Bullitt and Mother, Jugs & Speed among his vastly diverse credits) embraced the Indiana setting of Tesich’s writing and guided him in honing the dual storylines of the Stoller family and “cutter” buddies and the climactic race into an exhilarating whole. The movie would become beloved by bicycling enthusiasts, such as Brooks the Retrogrouch, who details his admiration here: But it also resonated with its principal players – Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley as the four high school grad pals, and Barbara Barrie (a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nominee) and Paul Dooley as the simultaneously nuanced but iconic Stoller parents – who would periodically get together for reunion screenings through the years. Indeed, Cristopher (who provides wonderful recollections of the film in his Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray Audio Commentary conversation with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman), Quaid and Haley reteamed at last September’s annual Interbike trade show convention in Las Vegas and the two Dennises discuss their love of biking that grew out of the film in Peter Flax’s Hollywood Reporter interview here: Breaking Away has both human horsepower and cinematic staying power. You can catch it in the wee hours this Friday July 15 on Turner Classic Movies (4:45 AM EDT/1:45 PM PDT) as part of the channel’s month-long Thursday night America in the ’70s Tribute or in glorious 1080p hi-def from a recent Fox 4K restoration transfer on TT’s beautiful Blu-ray, available here – – anytime, naturally.