'Glickman'

The life of a sports broadcasting pioneer is memorialized in "Glickman."

The life of a sports broadcasting pioneer is memorialized in “Glickman.” Veteran TV writer-producer Jim Freedman’s directorial debut feature is pedestrian in assembly, hewing to a straightforward mix of talking heads and archival materials that has little personality of its own. But its subject cut a duly inspirational figure as both athlete and commentator, providing a then-comparatively rare high-profile Jewish presence in U.S. sports. After further fest play, the pic’s nostalgic appeal should lure older viewers in telecast slots.

Bronx native Marty Glickman may have been best known as a broadcaster, but the docu notes that earlier in his life, he excelled at every sport he tried, with the “Flatbush Flash’s” running speed winning him a place on the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team. At the Berlin event, it was humiliating enough for Hitler to see his “Master Race” athletes defeated by African-Americans. When the 400-yard relay was held, Glickman and fellow Jewish team member Sam Stoller were replaced at the last minute by Jesse Owens (who protested on their behalf) and Ralph Metcalfe in what seemed a blatant move to placate the anti-Semitic hosts.

Glickman returned home to a stellar college football career, briefly playing in the pros, then after wartime military service commenced a long career in sports broadcasting that would witness (and often shape) that field’s many changes over the decades. His exceptionally vivid, clear play-by-play descriptions (for which he coined numerous phrases that entered into the vernacular) were a natural for radio when that was still the next best thing to a stadium seat. He also provided the commentary for Paramount’s newsreel sports coverage.

As television exploded in the 1950s, Glickman carved out a sizable niche, his “thrilling style at the mike” applied to everything from NFL and NBA events to high school games and marbles tournaments. (We even see him handicap a heat between kiddie miniature “Hot Wheels” race cars in a commercial amusingly seen under closing credits.) When HBO debuted as an all-sports net in 1972, Glickman helped build cable sportscasting from the ground up. Such was his influence that other networks hired him to coach their novice announcers, including retired athletes like Joe Namath (one of many grateful admirers interviewed here).

Yet despite his stature, Glickman was the object of occasional prejudice: At one early point, NBC replaced him with a non-Jewish commentator, the unstated concern apparently being that there were “too many Jews” in a field whose increasingly national (rather than regional) demographics now needed to accommodate the tastes of Midwestern and Southern audiences.

Interviewees of varying relevance all attest to Glickman’s qualities as a gentleman, scholar and Good Samaritan. If the subject (who retired in 1992, and died a decade later at 74) had any faults, they go unmentioned here. Pic’s adherence to chronological order means that the most dramatic material (re: the Olympics) is over with fairly quickly. And the packaging, while pro, makes scant effort at creating narrative momentum or a distinctive texture; pacing is brisk but unvaried. Still, the wealth of events and personalities noted here make “Glickman” a sporting history buff’s delight.

Glickman

Production

A Blind Date production. Produced, directed, written by James L. Freedman.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD), Lon Magdich, Marc Miller, Zvonimir Vidusin; editors, Frank Laughlin, Keith Robinson, Josh Trank; music, David Carbonara; sound, Richard Burton, Chris Elam. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, Feb. 1, 2012. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Seth Abraham, Marv Albert, Bill Bradley, Mike Breen, Jim Brown, Bob Costas, Herb Freedman, Frank Gifford, Nancy Glickman, Ed Goren, Elliott Gould, Ross Greenburg, Marvin Hier, Larry King, John Mara, Oscar Robertson, Gayle Sierens, Charley Steiner, David Stern, Jerry Stiller, George Vecsey, Peter Vecsey, Lou Zamperini. Narrator: James L. Freedman.

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