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Replaying 'The Game of Their Lives'

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page D02

The Washington premiere of "The Game of Their Lives," a movie about the United States' 1-0 victory over heavily favored England in the 1950 World Cup, gave four players a chance to relive the game.

Harry Keough recalled a play where a pass sent an American player through for a shot that nearly resulted in a second goal. "But I don't remember who made the pass," he said. "I did," said John Sousa, sitting a few feet away.

From left, Zachery Ty Bryan (Harry Keough), Gerard Butler (Frank Borghi), Jimmy Jean-Louis (Joe Gaetjens), Jay Rodan (Pee Wee Wallace) and Louis Mandylor (Gino Pariani) play part of the U.S. soccer team that upset England. (AP Photo/ifc Films)

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Their memories will be shared with moviegoers when "The Game of Their Lives" opens tomorrow. It is based on the 1996 book of the same name by Geoffrey Douglas, and stars Patrick Stewart, Wes Bentley and Gerard Butler. Four of the five living players attended the Washington premiere at Regal Theaters Gallery Place -- Walter Bahr, Keough, Sousa and Gino Pariani. Director David Anspaugh, screenwriter/co-producer Angelo Pizzo, two of the stars and more than a dozen D.C. United players also attended.

To say the U.S. team's win in 1950 was an upset is an understatement.

Anspaugh said he asked one of the players: "If you played England 10 more times, how many would England win? He said, 'All 10.' " In the movie, the patterns of the game are enhanced by numerous camera angles, and the actors are actually playing -- there are no stand-ins.

However, not all of the filmmaking techniques were successful. Only a handful of the soccer scenes were choreographed, which makes the movie feel less scripted but diminishes the drama of the final game.

One of the best passages in the book comes when, after a series of perfect passes, England star Stan Mortensen inexplicably heads a close shot over the crossbar. Mortensen then punches the goal post in frustration. It is only the 30th minute, the game is still scoreless, but he is starting to get the feeling this won't be his day.

There is no such drama to the final game in the movie.

But there is an out-of-place speech stating that soccer is "America's game in the future," reminiscent of the James Earl Jones speech about how baseball is the "one constant" from "Field of Dreams." The speech in this soccer film does not appear in the book, and it could be seen as an unabashed plug for the sport. After all, Philip Anschutz, who initiated and at least partially funded the movie, owns five MLS teams, including D.C. United.

The audience laughed out loud at several parts and cheered when Joe Gaetjens scored for the United States. There was a standing ovation for the four players after the movie. (Starting goalkeeper Frank Borghi lives in St. Louis but wasn't well enough to travel.) The players returned from the World Cup without even their neighbors knowing what they had accomplished; Keough said he was asked several times if the England team had professionals on it.

It is a running joke that Bahr isn't well-known for his role on the 1950 team. He instead is famous for being the father of former NFL place kickers Matt and Chris Bahr.

When the movie ended, however, Walter Bahr was seen wiping away tears. Later, he was congratulated by son Matt, who then slipped away unnoticed. His father still had work to do. He was signing autographs.

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