Gus (1976)

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While many American football fans were watching Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021, some people, including myself, were watching the 1976 Disney film, Gus instead (although my watching it that weekend was purely coincidental). After all, it does center around American football…basically. How good is this Vincent McEveety-directed film? Read on to find out!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the film begins, we’re introduced to the California Atoms, an NFL team that is statistically suffering, to put it lightly. Their chances of winning games is incredibly low much to the disappointment of their owner, Hank Cooper, played by Ed Asner. Their coach, Coach Venner, played by Don Knotts, has a more optimistic view that the team can shape up, but this doesn’t brighten Mr. Cooper’s day.

Mr. Cooper realizes that the only way they can draw crowds to their games is to have a phenomenal sideshow for their halftime performance. Around this time, news has reached America of a mule in Yugoslavia named Gus who can kick soccer balls one hundred yards. Gus was trained to do this by his owner, Andy Petrovic, played by Gary Grimes, a Yugoslavian with the strongest American accent ever.

That’s probably what he said after attempting a Yugoslavian accent!

Mr. Cooper decides to sign Andy and Gus to perform during their halftime performances and the duo is soon flown to California. Andy and Gus are nervous to perform at first, but after being welcomed by Mr. Cooper’s secretary, Debbie, played by Louise Williams, they put on a crowd-pleasing halftime show. The enthusiasm of the crowd watching Gus kick a football is enough to inspire the team to perform better much to Mr. Cooper’s satisfaction.

This gives Mr. Cooper an idea. He’s currently deep in gambling debts which he owes to a bookmaker named Charles Gwynn, played by Harold Gould. Mr. Cooper offers a bet that if the Atoms win half their games, he gets to keep the team and if they don’t, Mr. Gwynn can buy the team from him at his price. Mr. Gwynn raises the stakes to be that Mr. Cooper can keep the team only if the Atoms get to and win the Super Bowl! Otherwise, the team goes to Mr. Gwynn. Mr. Cooper is forced to accept those terms.

This was an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

During their next game, Mr. Cooper gets the idea to have Gus kick a field goal. While the referees originally argue about this, they come to the conclusion that the rulebook doesn’t make any stipulation that a “player” has to be a human, thereby allowing Gus to play for the Atoms. With Gus playing on the team as an official player, the Atoms start to win even more games and the dream of making it to the Super Bowl don’t seem as far-fetched anymore.

I’d like to see an NFL team try this someday!

Mr. Gwynn is extremely annoyed with this and hires two criminals recently released from prison to help interfere with Gus. Spinner and Crankcase, played by Tom Bosley and Tim Conway, respectively, utilize multiple tactics including delaying Gus from reaching the game on time to getting Gus drunk so he can’t kick straight. Despite these setbacks, the Atoms still manage to push forward.

When they finally make it to the Super Bowl, Spinner and Crankcase kidnap Gus and replace him with a lookalike mule. Mr. Cooper doesn’t realize the switch until they’re already playing on the field. They then try to locate the real Gus before the game is over. In the meanwhile, Gus has escaped the clutches of Spinner and Crankcase who try to recapture him in a busy supermarket, but are unsuccessful.

I’m surprised the management allowed the mule in the supermarket for so long!

Fortunately, the criminals are caught in time by the police and Gus is airlifted to the Super Bowl. He assists in winning the game and allows the final touchdown to be performed by Andy, whom Mr. Cooper allows to be a player on the field as well. The Atoms win the Super Bowl, Mr. Cooper gets to keep his team, Andy and Debbie are a couple, and everyone loves Gus!

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

And that was Gus! It’s pretty much a film based on one premise: a mule that can kick footballs. Everything else is really just extra trimming and decoration. The film sports many great comedy actors giving great performances such as Ed Asner, Don Knotts, Harold Gould, Tom Bosley, and Tim Conway. And of course, the mule (or mules) who portrayed Gus was trained very well. I personally wish Don Knotts had more of an active role in the film as he was quite underutilized in the film.

Gary Grimes and Louise Williams weren’t anything special and the climax in the supermarket goes on for far too long. In the end, I can’t defend this film as a good film, but it’s not the worst thing ever either. It’s a completely harmless film, but also a completely mindless one as well.

So, my final score for this film is 22/35 = 62.86% (D-) !

The next review will be posted on March 1, 2021.

8 thoughts on “Gus (1976)

  1. I was unaware until now that Liberty Williams renamed herself Louise Williams, as she was credited as Liberty Williams in this film. I’ve seen this movie a few times, including at a theater, and I don’t remember Cooper having gambling debts to Gwynn. I thought he just owed money to Gwynn because the Atoms lost a lot of money. I loved the slapstick scenes in the hospital & supermarket, and I thought Tom Bosley was very adept at slapstick, as he & Tim Conway took a lot of physical abuse at the hoofs of Gus. 🙂

  2. This is another one of the five Disney films I got for my birthday while getting into live-action Disney at age 12. It’s also the only one my father also watched and enjoyed, likely due to his love of sports.

    I am surprised you didn’t comment more on the slapstick scene with the mule and the crooks at the supermarket. That might just be the wildest and most surreal scene in all of Disney, and it amazes me the film isn’t more widely remembered just due to that. I even remember after I watched the film with my sisters, they couldn’t stop talking about that scene and the funniest parts to a woman who was someone’s mother at my brother’s high school graduation party the next day.

    So she and a group of other kids all gathered around the TV in my Nana and Papaw’s back room and I played that scene for them. (They weren’t much interested in the rest of the movie, though, and after watching the scene where Tom Bosley attacks Andy at the hospital and we see their skeletons with a cat jumping around on them (obviously an unregistered Animagus!), one girl just said “That was kinda funny.”) My aunt also suggested that when she got old enough to be in a nursing home, I could come there and play that scene for her it made her laugh so hard. (Of course, by the time this happened, her nursing room didn’t have any DVD players. Which is unfortunate, because it was around the time Tim Conway died and would have been a nice tribute, too…)

    1. I guess for me that scene just went on for far too long so I was getting tired of it, lol.

      I’m glad you and your aunt enjoyed it. Sorry to hear of the lack of DVD players in the nursing room. Maybe you can get her a portable DVD player?

  3. From this movie the term “Gus” came about. As in “It’s a Gus” etc. I”m not sure the “exact” meaning of what the term is supposed to mean but none other than Bill Maher talked about it on his show “Real Time” in 2020. Maybe you should’ve included that in your review. Do you know what the term means exactly?

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