Tuesday, August 8

Good 70s Films: Ice Castles

1978 Romance Drama
From Columbia Pictures
Directed by Donald Wrye

Robby Benson
Lynn-Holly Johnson
Tom Skerritt
Colleen Dewhurst
Jennifer Warren
David Huffman

Sports movies, whether based on a real athlete or fictionalized, tend to have the same theme.  He or she on the way to the top has an accident and through much adversity fights to reclaim what's hopefully still there for the taking.  In that regard this film is no different but I think the rather savage beating it took at the hands of some critics was unwarranted.  I also think they couldn't get themselves untangled from that basic theme to see the charm and tenderness that was lovingly presented or able to recognize the perfection of the casting.

Acting newcomer Lynn-Holly Johnson is clearly the star of the piece as Lexie, an Iowa teenager who dreams of becoming a world-class figure skater.  She has on her side Beulah (Colleen Dewhurst), the tough owner of a combination skating rink and bowling alley, a former figure skater herself who once won regionals, and coaches the teen.  She appears to love Lexie like the daughter she never had.

Coming more slowly to her side is her boyfriend, Nick (Robby Benson) who has just returned to town after quitting med school. He's portrayed as the small town Midwesterner who has no plans for life except that he wants Lexie to be a part of it.  He takes up playing hockey on a local farm team.  I certainly got the impression that his initial and brief reluctance to embrace her dreams was founded upon a little jealousy.  Luckily, he soon jumps on her bandwagon big time and works with her on the ice.

Not on Lexie's team at first is her widowed, farmer father, Marcus (Tom Skerritt) who adores his daughter but holds on to her too closely and clearly doesn't want her to be hurt.  After Beulah's constant haranguing and Nick's jumping in there (despite taking his own hits over being a quitter), Marcus relents and allows his daughter to go off to regionals to see how good she is.  

Spotting her at the event is Deborah Matland (Jennifer Warren), an Olympic coach, who finds promise in Lexie but feels she needs more training. She wants the teenager to live away from home and train heavily. Marcus is opposed to it but Beulah, despite losing her own coaching duties, sees the big opportunities ahead and heartily approves and Marcus again gives in.

Deborah wants to turn a bright light on the training and brings aboard a sports broadcasting friend, Brian (David Huffman), whose team records her every movement, to the displeasure of other competitors.  Also displeased is Nick who catches a glimpse of Brian, who has fallen in love with Lexie, kissing her at an event. 

Lexie has found that beyond the skating and the applause, she doesn't care much for life in the limelight.  She feels out-of-place at a party with Brian and Deborah and decides to skate out on the wintry rooftop of a highrise.  While being watched through windows by the partygoers, she trips on a cord that sends her sailing into patio tables and chairs and a chain linking them all together.  The mishap results in a partial blindness... she can see some light and shadows.

She returns home, defeated, and becomes a recluse.  This section of the film is my favorite, full of touching scenes, good acting and some words to live by.  What I loved was how those who loved her banded together to get her moving.  My favorite scenes involve Marcus and Beulah at the bowling alley where he rakes her over the coals for starting this whole thing and she takes him to task for allowing Lexie to wither away.  Then comes a glorious scene in Lexie's attic where she's hiding away, wrapped in her dead mother's sweater, with Beulah coming to shake the rafters with her tough love.  Nick, who has been sulking since seeing that kiss, comes back into the picture to get the nearly-blind Lexie back on the ice at a pond and at Beulah's ice rink.

Another favorite scene is when the four principals are sitting at Marcus' dinner table and Nick announces that Lexie is going to skate again.  They all think he's mad, including Lexie, but his will wins out and soon they're all helping.  Years later I am still touched
by the film's point of view... seeing loved ones rally behind one who is suffering.  Beulah says to Lexie we love you, come back to us and she does and they are there with such love, dedication and encouragement. How we could all soar if we had that.

Things are rushed a bit too much to get to the finale.  Lexie will skate at at arena with a packed audience.  Before she goes on, she unexpectedly meets with Brian who wants to know why she hasn't taken his phone calls and tells her that he still loves her.  He realizes, however, that it's over for them.  He also realizes something that only four others know... she will skate nearly blind.

Let's say several things about this finale, shall we?  It is just soooo Hollywood.  Like that could happen.  Skating, jumping, twirling, twisting... blind.  I'm so sure.  Then I'll tell you, that I watch that finale a few times.  Lexie can't see... and I'm not doing so well myself.  Sniff... sniff.

Marvin Hamlisch wrote the musical score and he and Carole Bayer Sager wrote the film's theme song, Through the Eyes of Love, a most appropriate use of a song and it's played throughout.  As Lexie flies down the ice, ready to go into her final jump, trumpets straining at the end of the song, we wonder if she'll make it and will she be found out?

Of course, she makes the jump.  But one thing has been forgotten in the preparation.  As she circles the rink to thunderous applause (the public has followed her recovery but is led to believe she is well), she trips and falls on the flowers that are thrown on the rink.  It gives Benson, as he walks on the ice to help her up, the chance to say the film's most famous line... we forgot about the flowers.  

Over the closing credits, we hear the song once more but this time with Melissa Manchester's distinctive voice.  It became a big hit for her.
With no slight whatsoever to Ms Johnson, the skating sequences look a little yesteryear.  Skating has come a long way since 1978. 

In real life, she won a silver medal at the 1974 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and then joined the Ice Follies.  It was there that she was noticed and hired for this, her first film.  Prior to her coming on board, the producers were going to hire an actress and use a skating double but decided that wouldn't work.

I admit that part of my being enamored of this film is because I met Lynn-Holly Johnson several times while we both were roller skating on the promenade at Venice, California.  The first time I saw her she was sitting on a bench lacing up her skates and I boldly sat down next to her and babbled on about how much I liked her in this film.  She seemed astonished that I recognized her and remained very gracious the couple of times we ran into one another other times on the promenade.

She would go on to make a few more films, namely costarring with Bette Davis and Carroll Baker in The Watcher in the Woods (1980), as a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only (1981) and in the 1984 remake of Where the Boys Are.  In 2010 she suffered a serious stroke on a plane but has miraculously recovered.  She left show business to devote her time to her husband and children.

Critics be damned, the film was enormously popular with the public, thanks chiefly, I presume, to the fact that top-billed was Robby Benson, the teen heartthrob of the 70s.  We'll discuss him a little more before the month is over.

Other than my seeing the film because I knew it would tug at my heartstrings, I went because of Colleen Dewhurst and Tom Skerritt, both of whom caused me to go bonkers.  Both raised the movie above the typical sports opus and their scenes together, as stated, were on fire. I have been a fan of Jennifer Warren's since Night Moves (1975) and thought she was wonderful as Paul Newman's wife in Slap Shot (1977).  She is tough and beautiful as the coach (and what hair!), a fun contrast to the innocent Lexie.  David Huffman, polished and clean-cut, breathed some life into the sportscaster.  Sadly, a few years after making this film, Huffman was murdered.

Donald Wyre could probably have made a few changes here and there but he certainly put out a popular movie.  Interestingly, his last film was a remake of Ice Castles in 2010.

Next posting:
One of my top five favorite actresses 
(and I've barely ever mentioned her)


  1. I was with you on one of those Venice skates and you pointed her out. Pretty cool.
    (Keith C.)