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This highly-acclaimed winner of five Emmy Awards is one of the best-loved movies ever made for television. It's the true story of a special relationship between two professional football players, Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan). Both star players for the Chicago Bears, Sayers and Piccolo soon became roommates and best friends. When Sayers suffers a knee injury in mid-season, it is Piccolo who prods and inspires him to work toward a complete recovery. Then fate deals a cruel blow: Piccolo is stricken with malignant cancer. The constant support and friendship of Sayers plays an important role in Piccolo's heroic fight against the disease. Also starring Shelley Fabares (TV's Coach) as Piccolo's loving wife, BRIAN'S SONG is a moving and unforgettable film.
Audio commentary by costars James Caan and Billy Dee Williams is typical memory-book stuff, with both actors (mostly Caan) casually reminiscing about the filming of Brian's Song. Caan had just finished The Godfather, so his star was quickly rising, and he spent much of the time carousing and playing practical jokes with players from the Chicago Bears football team. Williams, in contrast, was a relative unknown getting a big career break, and he approached the filming with utter seriousness. These differences in personality clearly helped each actor in creating the opposites-attract nature of their on-screen friendship. The commentary is far too casual to be of lasting interest, but Caan is a playful raconteur who's always fun to listen to. The exclusive documentary "Gale Sayers: First and Goal" offers a welcomed update from the former football star, whose memories of gridiron greatness--and his deep friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo--provide poignant resonance to the Sayers-Piccolo story, which hasn't lost a bit of its emotional impact. --Jeff Shannon
- Exclusive Featurette: "Gale Sayers: First and Goal"
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Adapted by veteran screenwriter, William Blinn, A Dallas newspaper critic said that Blinn's screenplay was highly restrained and avoided overt sentimentalityyet conveyed the true friendshio that the men had for each other. In a 2005 Entertainment weekly survey, "Brian's Song" was listed as the 7th best "guy cry" movie ever made.
Note: The movie was remade by Disney in 2001. The remake is not worth watching.
The two leads are stellar, and the chemistry between them near-perfect. On the verge of stardom as hothead Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather", James Caan portrays Piccolo as a genuinely likable, funny and determined guy who is convinced he will beat the odds. I doubt if he has played a role since with more emotional honesty, and in such a brief running time, he makes you care deeply about his character. With quiet strength and few words, Williams captures Sayers' initial reticence and increasing bond with Piccolo. In fact, he is responsible for two of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, both where Sayers needed to get out of his awkward comfort zone, first when he tells his teammates in the locker room that Piccolo is sick and then at the second awards banquet when he says with a lack of irony how he loves Piccolo. You are complete stone if you are not moved by these scenes. Jack Warden shows his dependably solid mix of macho gruffness and caring sensitivity as coach George Halas. The wives understandably take a back seat in the story with a post-Elvis era Shelley Fabares effective in her brief scenes as Joy Piccolo and Judy Pace even more in the background as Linda Sayers. Lending welcome realism, several Chicago Bears played themselves, including legendary linebacker Dick Butkus (before he became a TV actor), and the movie smartly includes archival footage of the real Piccolo and Sayers on the field. The beautiful, soaring music by Michel Legrand resonates still, especially the instantly familiar title theme. Keep in mind that "Brian's Song" was a TV-movie (still a concept in its infancy in 1971) made on the cheap with simple, reused sets and periodic fadeouts for the commercials that aired back then. I even recognized the Sayers house as Darrin and Samantha's house from "Bewitched". And truth be told, Caan and Williams looked more like track stars than football players. But the movie transcends those limitations in ways the producers could not have anticipated.
Watching the movie with the commentary by Caan and Williams yields an almost entirely different experience, comically irreverent as if two fraternity brothers reunited. While Williams gets more sentimental about the experience, Caan is flat-out funny as he talks about his fantasy to become a Chicago Bear, how much more athletic he was compared to Williams (which both agree was true), commenting on their physiques at the time, and even speculating some people like Blinn and actor David Huddleston were dead (in fact, they aren't according to imdb.com). Caan also reveals that the movie was made only six months after Piccolo's death and that he felt the weight of his portrayal early on when acting in front of the real Joy Piccolo. There is also a 12-minute by-the-numbers featurette, "Gale Sayers: First and Goal", with the real Sayers, who looks great thirty years later and true to character, doesn't let much emotion show when he talks about his friendship with Piccolo. I'm just so glad they have finally put this on DVD, as this movie was such a powerful touchstone for my generation.