North Dallas Forty

North Dallas Forty

Promotional poster for North Dallas Forty
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Produced by Frank Yablans
Written by Peter Gent
Ted Kotcheff
Frank Yablans
Nancy Dowd (uncredited)
Starring Nick Nolte
Mac Davis
Charles Durning
Dayle Haddon
Bo Svenson
John Matuszak
Steve Forrest
G. D. Spradlin
Dabney Coleman
Savannah Smith Boucher
Music by John Scott
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Edited by Jay Kamen
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • August 3, 1979 (1979-08-03)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $26,079,312[1]

North Dallas Forty is a 1979 American sports comedy-drama film starring Nick Nolte, Mac Davis, and G. D. Spradlin set in the world of American professional football. It was directed by Ted Kotcheff and based on the best-selling novel by Peter Gent. The screenplay was by Kotcheff, Gent, Frank Yablans and Nancy Dowd (uncredited). This was the first film role for Davis, a popular country music recording artist.


Wide receiver Phil Elliott (Nolte) plays for a 1970s era professional football team based in Dallas, Texas named the North Dallas Bulls,[2][3] which closely resembles the Dallas Cowboys.

Though considered to possess "the best hands in the game", the aging Elliott is struggling to stay competitive and relies heavily on painkillers. Elliott and popular quarterback Seth Maxwell (Davis) are outstanding players, but they also characterize the drug-, sex-, and alcohol-fueled party atmosphere of NFL teams of that era. Elliott wants only to play the game, retire, and own a home with his girlfriend Charlotte (Dayle Haddon), who appears to be financially independent, and has no interest whatsoever in football.

The Bulls play for an iconic coach (Spradlin) who turns a blind eye to anything that his players may be doing off the field or anything that his assistant coaches and trainers condone to keep those players in the game. The Coach is focused on player "tendencies", a quantitative measurement of their performance, and seems less concerned about the human aspect of the game and the players. As one player (John Matuszak) finally erupts to a coach (Charles Durning): "Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game."

Elliott's non-conformist attitude incurs the coach's wrath more than once, and at one point the Coach informs Elliott that his continuing attitude could affect his future with the Bulls. After the Bulls lose their final game of the season in Chicago, Elliott learns that a Dallas detective has been hired by the Bulls to follow him. They turn up proof of his marijuana use and a sexual relationship with a woman who intends to marry team executive Emmett Hunter (Dabney Coleman), brother of owner Conrad Hunter (Steve Forrest). When they also drag Charlotte's name into it, Elliott, convinced that the entire investigation is merely a pretext to force him off the team, quits the game of football for good.

Behind the scenes

Part drama, comedy, and satire, North Dallas Forty is widely considered a classic sports film, giving insights into the lives of professional athletes.[4]

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Peter Gent, a Cowboys wide receiver in the late 1960s, the film's characters closely resemble real-life team members of that era, with Seth Maxwell often compared to quarterback Don Meredith, B.A. Strother to Tom Landry, and Elliott to Gent. Of the story, Meredith said, "If I'd known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more."[5]



The film opened to good reviews, some critics calling it the best movie Ted Kotcheff made behind Fun with Dick and Jane and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "The central friendship in the movie, beautifully delineated, is the one between Mr. Nolte and Mac Davis, who expertly plays the team's quarterback, a man whose calculating nature and complacency make him all the more likable, somehow."[6] Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "'North Dallas Forty' retains enough of the original novel's authenticity to deliver strong, if brutish, entertainment".[7] Newsweek magazine's David Ansen wrote, "The writers -- Kotcheff, Gent and producer Frank Yablans -- are nonetheless to be congratulated for allowing their story to live through its characters, abjuring Rocky-like fantasy configurations for the harder realities of the game. North Dallas Forty isn't subtle or finely tuned, but like a crunching downfield tackle, it leaves its mark."[8]

However, in his review for the Globe and Mail, Rick Groen wrote, "North Dallas Forty descends into farce and into the lone man versus the corrupt system mentality deprives it of real resonance. It's still not the honest portrait of professional athletics that sport buffs have been waiting for."[9] Sports Illustrated magazine's Frank Deford wrote, "If North Dallas Forty is reasonably accurate, the pro game is a gruesome human abattoir, worse even than previously imagined. Much of the strength of this impression can be attributed to Nick Nolte ... Unfortunately, Nolte's character, Phil Elliott, is often fuzzily drawn, which makes the actor's accomplishment all the more impressive."[10] In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold wrote, "Charlotte, who seemed a creature of rhetorical fancy in the novel, still remains a trifle remote and unassimilated. Dayle Haddon may also be a little too prim and standoffish to achieve a satisfying romantic chemistry with Nolte: Somehow, the temperaments don't mesh."[11]

Differences from the novel

The novel highlights the relationship between the violent world of professional football with the violence inherent in the social structures and cultural mores of 1970s American life, using a simulacrum of America's Team and the most popular sport in the United States as the metaphorical central focus. Recurring scenes of television and radio news reporting violent crimes, war and environmental destruction are scattered throughout various scenes, but left out in the same scenes recreated in the movie. Throughout the novel there is more graphic sex and violence, as well as drug and alcohol abuse without the comic overtones of the film, for instance the harassment of an unwilling girl at a party played for laughs in the movie is a brutal near-rape at an orgy in the novel.

At the end of the novel there is a shocking twist ending in which Phil returns to Charlotte to tell her he's left football and presumably to continue his relationship with her on her ranch, to find she and a black friend (who is not in the movie) have been regular lovers, unbeknownst to Phil, and that they have been violently murdered by Charlotte's ex-husband (also left out of the movie), who has been stalking her throughout the novel.[12][13]

See also

Any Given Sunday


  1. "North Dallas Forty, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  3. Movie/TV helmets
  4. New York Times movie review
  5. D Magazine (Dallas Magazine), "The 35 Biggest Pop Culture Moments in Modern Dallas History," January, 2010.
  6. Maslin, Janet (August 1, 1979). "Dallas Forty: Cynicism and Comedy". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  7. Schickel, Richard (September 3, 1979). "Strong Medicine". Time. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  8. Ansen, David (August 6, 1979). "A Locker Room with Soul". Newsweek.
  9. Groen, Rick (August 4, 1979). "Dallas fumbles cost film points". Globe and Mail.
  10. Deford, Frank (August 27, 1979). "Good Flick On Bad Doings In The Pros". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  11. Arnold, Gary (August 3, 1979). "A Battered Loner's Life in the Wars". Washington Post.
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