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‘Hoosiers’ Finally Receives the Treatment It Deserves

Released just in time for optimum March Madness cross-promotional opportunities, the new double-DVD “collector’s edition” of the movie “Hoosiers” comes with a bundle of extras, many of them questions.

What if Jack Nicholson had played the part of Coach Norman Dale instead of Gene Hackman? What if Harry Dean Stanton had taken the role of Shooter instead of Dennis Hopper?

What if the film had been shot in Canada, on the cheap, trying to fake small-town basketball authenticity in a land sown with small-town hockey fanaticism?

Suppose the movie had been called “The Last Shot,” as some studio executives wanted. Would people have mistaken it for a hockey movie? For a soccer movie? For a Jose Canseco steroid expose?

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And what if those same studio executives hadn’t held director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo to their own impossible shot clock, demanding that a 2-hour 48-minute rough cut of the film be chopped down to 1 hour 54 minutes to facilitate better “crowd turnover” in movie houses across the country?

Turnover, indeed. Orion Pictures released the truncated version of “Hoosiers” in 1986 and audiences still loved it, entranced with the big names on the marquee, the exacting attention to period detail and feel-good story of the little team that could.

But lost amid the warm glow of 1950s nostalgia were some nagging plot holes that were presumed to be rookie mistakes by the film’s makers. At least until now.

The new “Hoosiers” release includes 30 minutes of deleted scenes accompanied by explanatory background from Anspaugh and Pizzo. The “collector’s edition” fails to deliver the director’s-cut version “Hoosiers” truly needs, but after scanning the bits and pieces that wound up on the editing room floor, you see the film for what it really is: an admired movie that could have been better.

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Here, the extras provide some answers.

For instance, what about Buddy, the Hickory High player who is thrown off the team, then mysteriously rejoins the squad?

On the DVD, Anspaugh says that whenever he or Pizzo is asked to speak about the film, the first question invariably asked is, “How did Buddy get back on the team?”

Pizzo: “This was actually the last scene to be cut. This is what got us under two hours, I believe. We fought for it. We felt that everybody would notice that Buddy just magically appeared on the team.”

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Anspaugh, laughing: “And they did.”

Pizzo: “And yet the powers that be said, ‘We don’t care, we only want a film that’s less than two hours.’ ”

What was deleted: Buddy transferring to another school but refusing to play for a rival he grew up hating, then coming back, sheepishly, to ask Dale for forgiveness and a second chance. A related scene, also deleted, shows Dale angrily erupting over the transfer, a brief but necessary flash of the temper that first landed the coach in trouble and eventually coaching high school ball at tiny Hickory.

Then there’s the matter of the “infamous kiss” between Dale and Barbara Hershey’s Myra Fleener, which also appears mysteriously after the two characters spend most of the movie snarling at each other.

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“So many people have asked us about that kiss,” Pizzo says during the audio commentary. “That it seems to come out of nowhere, and doesn’t feel organic, and so on and so forth. And I think it’s a valid and legitimate criticism.

“And I would only defend it by saying that if they had seen the original cut that we had, they could see that there were two transitional scenes that would have made sense of that scene.... But it did feel a little abrupt without those two scenes.”

Anspaugh said he thought “the audience really got cheated and robbed” without those scenes, “but that was not our doing.”

Hickory’s against-the-odds crusade mirrored that of the filmmakers, who had to fight to shoot the movie in Indiana, rather than cash in on the Canadian exchange rate, as one film company wanted, and keep “Hoosiers” as the title. They also had to work through inclement weather; it rained on 36 of the 39 shooting days, the gray skies adding to the somber atmosphere through the first half of the film.

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The last shot? The crew got lucky. Maris Valainis, playing star player Jimmy Chitwood, had been nervously missing from the assigned spot until the climactic moment -- hitting the game-winning jumper on the first take. Without instruction or direction, the extras in the stands streamed onto the court to celebrate, another first take that wound up in the film.

Another nugget from the DVD: Wade Schenck, the actor who plays Ollie, the hapless end-of-the-bench scrub, was the best basketball player among the cast.

“He had to practice hard to find a way to not dribble efficiently,” Pizzo says, “because he was a great ballhandler.”

Laughing at the scene in which Ollie dribbles the ball off his leg out of bounds, Pizzo quips, “I don’t know, that looked kind of fake to me, David. Let’s do a retake on it.”

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Anspaugh: “If you watched the Laker game the other night, it looked just like the Lakers.”

In happier days, the Lakers’ most famous fan, Nicholson, expressed interest in playing the lead in “Hoosiers” before eventually backing out and opening the way for Hackman. Anspaugh says he once told Nicholson that he always wondered how the film would have turned out if he had taken the role.

Nicholson raised an eyebrow, wrapped an arm around Anspaugh and replied, “A mega-hit, kid. A mega-hit.”

“Hoosiers” did all right as it was. But, as the new DVD suggests, it could have been even better had the filmmakers been allowed to play a little overtime.

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