Satan, John Huston, Exploding Basketballs, And The Best Sports Scene In A Non-Sports Movie

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There are films that would never be classified as sports movies, but feature one singular scene that has made it part of the sports film canon. I would never be able to write about The Naked Gun in and of itself for Sportsflicks, but its third act is baseball comedy at its finest, unmatched outside of the good parts of Bull Durham and any Phillies game. In the late 1970’s, a bunch of Italians came to the States, hired a bunch of recognizable actors, and in the process created a very strange non-sports film that has one of the greatest moments in basketball film history.

We are not here to talk about The Visitor in its entirety, though you should definitely watch the whole thing. Pick a major horror movie made between the years 1968 and 1977 and rest assured that The Visitor either borrowed themes from it, or ripped if off wholesale. But it has charms of its own, from an eight-year old girl shooting a gun at her mother’s back at her birthday party, to a brief appearance from future “fair tax” demagogue Neal Boortz.

Legendary director John Huston flies Eastern Airlines from Heaven on the advice of Jesus Christ—this is the plot, by the way, not me describing an especially vivid Ambien dream—who really wants the aforementioned birthday girl/daughter of Satan killed. If you guessed Jesus would be played by General Esperanza from Die Hard 2, you would be correct. Not sane, none of it, but also not a sports movie. But there is one scene in The Visitor that makes it a must for sports movie buffs.

After we’re introduced to Huston and Franco Nero as Jesus H. Christ, the action shifts to Atlanta, and its two skyscrapers circa 1978. A basketball game is in progress at The Omni, and the “Rebels” are going back and forth with the “S.F. Miners.” Future WFAN icon and Weird Sports Radio legend Steve “Schmoozie” Somers calling the action. A player by the name of Abdul is giving the Rebels some trouble, but is temporarily benched with ankle soreness.

As Abdul recovers, The Schmoozer interviews a person that at first appears to be an emaciated Pat Riley, but who film buffs will recognize as Lance Henriksen. The Man Who Would Be Bishop From Aliens is there with his girlfriend and her daughter, who wanders off as Lance dodges questions from Somers, including how in the Hell he got the money to buy the Fake Hawks. His answer is “God,” although the audience knows that it’s actually Satan, or “Sateen,” or whatever evil power Jesus and the director of Victory are battling.

Abdul senses that something isn’t right, but gets back on the court anyway, just in time to flush the game winning dunk for the Miners. This being an Italian horror movie, even a dunk takes its precious time to get to the hoop, adding drama and comedic absurdity to what is supposed to be ten seconds of gameplay but takes closer to ninety in real time. This is the closest The Visitor gets to being accurate about pro basketball.

I watched all this with no inkling of what was to come, so I fear giving the surprise ending away, but how can you spoil a fucking basketball exploding in your face as you’re dunking it? That is 100 percent some The Last Boy Scout-level shit right there, of the type which makes you revisit it again and again. And unlike The Last Boy Scout, there is enough batshit craziness to sustain the film for 106 minutes.

There is something for almost everyone in The Visitor, and for those who might cringe at the sight of birds forcing cinema legend Glenn Ford into crashing his car, there is also more than one movie called The Visitor. Viewers of that other film will miss out, however, on a movie that is more than just exploding basketballs and loaded guns as birthday presents. Not much more, admittedly, but other things do happen in the movie. We all are entertained by different things, and if laughing at how American professional sports are portrayed in Italian-produced films is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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