THURSDAY’S GAME (1974) – Bob Newhart and Gene Wilder– what’s not to like?

The following is my second of two entries in The Unemployment Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Oct. 4 – 6, 2019. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of movies with joblessness as their subject!

For years, I have been singing the praises of an unassuming TV-movie named Thursday’s Game. It was made in 1971 and then inexplicably shelved until ABC broadcast it in April 1974, by which time the considerable talents of its initially unknown cast and crew had come to light.

By some miracle of casting, the movie stars Bob Newhart and Gene Wilder as Marvin Ellison and Harry Evers, two buddies who haven’t quite adjusted to adulthood. Marvin is almost nonchalant at his success in the clothing industry, while Harry is on the verge of getting fired from his stint as the producer of a middling TV game show.

The movie’s premise is that every Thursday, Marvin and Harry attend a game of penny-ante poker with their friends. One night, their poker buddies decide to make the game more exciting by upping the stakes. This ends up making the game so exciting that it degenerates into a brawl, and Marvin and Harry exit the game minus a lot of old friends. Since the duo are still craving a weekly night out, the guys decide not to tell their wives that the poker game has broken up so that Marvin and Harry can continue to have their boys’ night out on Thursdays.

A fair enough premise, to be sure. And yet, contemporary reviews of the movie dismissed the hostility-laden poker game as a minor plot point, when it was actually the highlight of the movie. I’ve embedded the movie’s first 15 minutes below; the poker game starts at the 8:08 mark. If you don’t watch any other part of the movie, watch the poker game and its aftermath all the way through; Newhart’s and Wilder’s reactions are priceless.

I must note that the rest of the movie isn’t quite as good as that early scene. The movie is very leisurely paced (I’d say about a half-hour too long), and it comes with the kinds of plot tropes that only 1970’s TV could cough up. (Harry’s son [played by a young Chris Sarandon] is attending a sensitivity camp called Camp Communication, and when Marvin is trying to disengage himself from his wife, he lies and tells her that he is a “fruit.”)

On the plus side is some very sharp dialogue about friends and relationships, courtesy of James L. Brooks, who wrote this movie just as he was on the cusp of success with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” And the sharply loaded supporting cast is a Who’s Who of ’70s icons including Ellen Burstyn, Rob Reiner, Norman Fell, and “MTM” veterans Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, and Nancy Walker. You could do far worse for a non-assuming TV-movie — give it a shot.

(The movie is available for free viewing on YouTube, but in individual, chronological segments rather than in one entire chunk. As noted above, Part I is embedded below. Also, if you liked this blogathon entry, click here to read my first ‘thon entry about the 1933 musical Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.)

2 thoughts on “THURSDAY’S GAME (1974) – Bob Newhart and Gene Wilder– what’s not to like?

  1. I have vague memories of this airing but I don’t remember if I watched it or not. I will now. I’ll save it for next Saturday where I will be hooked up at dialysis and very happy not to be indecisive about what I’ll be watching on YouTube.

    Liked by 1 person

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