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The Main Event (1979)

One of Hollywood’s most endurable backdrops, the sport of boxing, provides the setting and storyline that sees Barbra Streisand reunited with her What’s Up Doc? co-star, Ryan O’Neal. It’s an entertaining comedy where the two engage in a screwball variation on the battle of the sexes theme in a film that Streisand scored a producer’s credit on alongside Howard Zieff’s direction.

With an in-joke on Miss Streisand’s pronounced nose, she stars here as an expert in the field of perfumes. She knows what her nose likes and has the smarts to market new fragrances to the public. Sadly she isn’t good with her finances and her lawyer/ex-hubby Paul Sand comes calling to tell her that she’s been left penniless by a shady banker who has embezzled her fortune and disappeared. She’s not only broke but 300K in debt. The only thing she actually owns is a once promising fighter’s contract. You guessed it. Mr. Ryan O’Neal’s. What she’s to soon learn is her weekly allowance to him has been set up as a tax loss. He hasn’t fought in four years and has used the weekly paycheck to open a failing school for learning to drive a car.

Now he’s on the spot. Fight or hand over the 60K she’s paid him to fight as per the contract she holds. And so the bickering begins between the two as she becomes a hands on promoter alongside his loyal trainer played by a very dry Whitman Mayo of Sanford and Son fame. You may remember him as Redd Foxx’s pal Grady. I know I do as that show had me in stitches for years and still does when I revisit it.

O’Neal would like nothing better than to stay out of the ring. Not happening and there’s a hilarious bit on the way to his first fight in four years. His nerves are shattered and with Streisand and Mayo in the car on their way to the fight vs. a push over known as “The Bakersfield Bleeder”, O’Neal is seen vomiting on the side of the road. A quick cut and it’s now Streisand vomiting on the road side after witnessing the carnage. The fact of the matter is the “Bleeder” was substituted at the last minute for a much tougher opponent and while we never actually see the fight we do see O’Neal’s face has been battered, bloodied and bruised on his way to a knock out loss.

“We’re gonna get better fights with nicer people.”

And so it’s back to the gym where we can see an out of shape O’Neal getting pushed around by a young rookie while Streisand reads aloud instructions from a How to Box instructional booklet. While she may not be offering much in the way of boxing technique to O’Neal she does endear herself to a major fight promoter played by long time veteran, James Gregory. A man who’s distinct voice is easily identifiable. Even when playing General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Once back in the ring, poor O’Neal is going to realize he’s facing two opponents. Not just the guy across the square circle with eight once gloves on but the frizzy red haired gal in his own corner who promptly gets him disqualified in his next match for entering the ring before a round has come to an end AND just as he was about to KO his opponent. Another match and a bucket of ice down the inside of his boxing trunks followed by a bickering match in the center of the ring to the delight of the fans between the two has Gregory seeing dollar signs for a proposed match with a fighter from O’Neal’s past, Richard Lawson.

Is The Main Event a classic? I suppose not but I found it a winning formula highlighted by the chemistry of our two star players. Each one gives as good as they get in waging a war against the other. The more they bicker the more they continue to fall for one another. First it’s O’Neal who takes a shine to Streisand and when he gets a little too amorous after a successful business meeting she delivers a great one liner, “I said celebrate! Not fornicate!” Then the tables turn and it’s her that wants to engage in some adult fun. Hold on a minute, we’re in training camp and that’s not on the workout schedule.

Boxing movies mean real life boxing personalities and a keen eyed fight fan will notice boxing referee Richard Steele in O’Neal’s fight camp as well as famed ring announcer, Jimmy Lennon Sr. Outside of boxers you’ll be able to spot Ernie Hudson and even Uncle Leo, Len Lesser. Getting back to Whitman Mayo who is admittedly hard for me to separate from his Sanford character Grady, he’s got a great one liner I could see as a quote from the classic TV show. When he arrives at a secluded training camp in the dead of winter with heavy snow on the ground he points out that he “hasn’t seen this much white since the clan meeting of ’68.” Pure Grady.

I won’t swear to it but if I recall this wasn’t met with much enthusiasm by the critics of the day but again, I enjoyed it and that’s all that really matters I suppose. It’s not hard to find if you’re looking for a copy. It’s out on DVD as part of a series of titles that starred Miss Streisand. The poster? Picked one up in a collection not long ago which prompted me to finally watch this one. Glad I did as laughter is always a healthy exercise.

5 Comments »

  1. Believe it or not, I do kinda like this flick. I saw it when I was kid when video rental places still existed and they had Classic Films on the shelves. I’m not the biggest Streisand or O’Neil fan, but there’s something charming and fun about it.

  2. I remember when this first played in theaters, and you are correct, it was not greeted warmly by critics at the time, which is perhaps why I’ve never seen it. But I will say, ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ is one of my favorite comedies ever, and well worth a look.

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