Breaking Away


The classic “coming of age with bicycle” film.

Best friends Mike, Cyril, Dave and Moocher have just graduated from high school (Bloomington, Indiana) and are “cutters”: from the working class area of the town where the main employer is the local limestone quarry. Which is also their swimming hole.

This also gives some shirts-off time for an adolescent Dennis Quaid.

There is great animosity between the cutters and the wealthy University students, each group who have their own turf. The irony is that limestone was used to build the university, which is now seen as being too good for the locals who built it.

The future’s not bright,

Cop: How are you fellas doing?
Cyril: Well, we’re a little disturbed by developments in the Middle East, but…

…but Dave has a plan. An Italian cycling team are coming to race in Indianapolis, and he intends to enter. He starts shaving his legs and learning the language and culture of his idols on team Cinzano.

Dave: Buon giorno, papa!
Dad: I’m not “papa.” I’m your god-damned father.

He gets the girl of the rich kid by posing as an Italian exchange student.

Its cute, subtle and a bit slow. There is a poignant scene where the Dad, retrenched from the quarry and now a car salesman, gets to go back every week and tap the splitters into the big blocks. You know its art because it’s 3 minutes without dialog or a car chase in an American movie. Rotten tomatoes rating: 94%, Academy Award for best screenplay, Director Peter Yates also did Bullitt (1968).

But it set the bar for the genre:
The truck scene:

The bicycle pump in the spokes scene:

The triumphant race scene:

Disillusionment with false heroes. Lose of innocence. Leaving, arriving, breaking away. Bathos, Pathos, Opera. The immediate effect on society was not devastating, but reverberations followed on its way to cult status. First the echoes around the world:

Then the TV spin-off starring Shaun Cassidy

The inevitable Kevin Costner rip-off (America Flyers, 1985, Rotten Tomato rating: 63%)

The Bollywood remake with more dancing and less opera on the soundtrack:
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992, Hindi: जो जीता वोही सिकंदर; English: “He who wins is the conqueror”)

It was huge, the biggest Bollywood box office film in 1992.

Then from “Tollywood” (movies out of Hyderabad) Thammudu (1999) A remake of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikanda but about a boxer.

Then the Tamil movie Badri (2001) a remake of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikanda but about kickboxing.

Then the Bengali film Champion (2003). But about basketball.

But things don’t really get cult status until an indie band has made a song about it and this final step was achieved in 2008: “One For the Cutters” by The Hold Steady. It’s a bit dark, better I leave you with this image:

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2 Responses to Breaking Away

  1. 888riley says:

    So Shaun Cassidy rides a Huffy? ok.

    • Mark says:

      Product placement? Yeah, in the movie the guy rode a Masi. The TV series was a train wreck all round, only 7 episodes aired. Purists have pointed out that in the movie poster, the bike had cranks on the left side.

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