Fever Pitch (1985): Richard Brooks’ Final Feature, Starring Ryan O’Neal, Giancarlo Giannini, Chad Everett, John Saxon, and Catherine Hicks

Richard Brooks wrote and directed Fever Pitch, a gambling melodrama set in Vegas, starring Ryan O’Neal, Giancarlo Giannini, Chad Everett, John Saxon, and Catherine Hicks.

Grade: C (* out of *****)

The film marked Brooks’s final film before his death in 1992.

Sports writer Steve Taggart (O’Neal) volunteers to write articles for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner about a compulsive sports and casino gambler he calls “Mr. Green” who is, is fact, himself. His sports editor John Saxon assigns Taggart the sports betting and casino gambling series, which attracts large readership interest.

Over time, Taggart becomes more obsessed with gambling in Las Vegas, landing him more deeply in debt. He compounds his money and gambling problems by dealing with associated loan sharks, including the mean and dangerous L.A. bookmaker known as “The Dutchman” (Chad Everett).

Taggart’s risk-addiction and perennial gambling money-losses ultimately spill over into his personal life. After a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm, Taggart brings his young daughter (Bridgette Andersen) to Hollywood Park. While trying to stem his gambling while at the racetrack, he is physically assaulted by a track-goer to whom he owes money.

Upon reflection on how truly dangerous sports gambling can be, Taggart visits Gamblers Anonymous in order to end his gambling compulsion. Taggart returns to Las Vegas, where he meets high-roller Charley Peru (Giancarlo Giannini), in hopes of making a large score and breaking even.

Before returning to Los Angeles to celebrate “kicking” his gambling habit, Taggart places a few dollars into a slot machine at the Las Vegas Airport, where he magically scores huge jackpot. Taggart gets attorney to hold the huge cash in trust fund for his daughter. When he asks the attorney to reassure him that “even I cannot touch the money?” his attorney replies, “especially, not you.”

Brooks became interested in the problem of gambling while recovering from heart attack in 1983. He began researching the topic and wrote the script over two years. It was set to be produced by Dino de Laurentiis under the title The Fever and Brooks wanted Sam Shepard to play the lead. Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Tom Selleck were also considered for the role. Brooks spent nine months editing it.

The newspaper editorial office scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, which always had popular horse racing page, and solid sports gambling coverage. Some Herald Examiner and Times staffers played bit parts.

Critical Status:

It was nominated for 4 Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, as well as contributing to O’Neal’s later Razzie nomination for Worst Actor of the Decade.

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John J. B. Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.”

Commercial Flop

Fever Pitch failed at the box office, grossing just over $600,000 on a budget of $7 million.

Ryan O’Neal as Steve Taggart
Catherine Hicks as Flo
Giancarlo Giannini as Charley
Bridgette Andersen as Amy
Chad Everett as The Dutchman
John Saxon as The Sports Editor
Hank Greenspun as The Las Vegas Sun Publisher
William Smith as “Panama Hat”
Keith Hefner as Sweeney
Patrick Cassidy as Soldier
William Prince as Mitchell
Chad McQueen as Convict
Fred Robledo as The Sports Desk Editor