The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Chinatown” and “The Godfather”….both brilliant, but both wonderfully flawed

March 20, 2011
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     I was watching “Chinatown” the other day.   Great movie.   Truly great.

     I was watching it out of the corner of one eye while I was reading some book with the other.  (I love reading and watching TV at the same time….I don’t know why….maybe I like how it makes me feel like an idiot savant or something….no jokes, please.).   Anyway, obviously only paying half-attention, I barely noticed it when something started to bother me.   Didn’t know what.

This is what happened to Jake Gittes in “Chinatown” when he started asking questions about that race call….

This is what happened to Jake Gittes in “Chinatown” when he started asking questions about that race call….


     Then I realized there was a horse racing announcer’s race call on the radio in the background.   But that was no big deal.   It was the scene in “Chinatown” where Jack Nicholson, as Detective Jake Gittes, is down at the police morgue trying to figure out why all these people are drowning in the L.A. River during a drought, and he’s looking over the dead bodies, and it’s perfectly plausible that a bunch of bored cops would be listening to the race recalls during the day to break up the monotony and tedium of pushing dead bodies around.   So that wasn’t why I felt weird about it.

     Then I got it.

     The race call they were using was Seabiscuit’s stirring triumph in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap.   I knew it was Seabiscuit’s 1940 Big ‘Cap because I’ve heard the late great Joe Hernandez’ call of the race about a hundred times.   It’s terrific.   Here it is.   Click the link, then click ‘Audio’, and listen:


     Why is this noteworthy?

     Because it couldn’t have happened.

     Seabiscuit’s Big ‘Cap victory was in 1940, but “Chinatown”—all of it—takes place in Los Angeles in the year….wait for it….1937.   Hm.

     Speaking of Seabiscuit, they made a movie about that heroic little horse quite recently, in 2003, entitled, cleverly enough, “Seabiscuit”, starring Jeff Bridges and Tobey “Spider-Man” Maguire.   In the movie, filmed at Santa Anita, the fabled Santa Anita Turf Course can easily be seen in the background of several racing shots.   Also, in the scene right before the big race at the end—the same 1940 Big ‘Cap featured in “Chinatown”—Seabiscuit is depicted along with all the other horses in the race, before the race, in the walking ring, parading around and around in a circle, with a sculpted bronze statue of some horse standing in the middle of that walking ring.   Santa Anita’s walking ring.   Which I myself have stood next to a thousand times.

     Why is this noteworthy?

     Because it couldn’t have happened.

     Seabiscuit, as mentioned, won the Big ‘Cap in 1940, but the turf course wasn’t even installed until 1953.   Yet they filmed the movie at Santa Anita anyway, with the then non-existent turf course in full view.   Crazy!   As for the horse statue, the horse who the horse who plays Seabiscuit in the movie “Seabiscuit” is walking around and around in the walking ring and the bronze horse statue in that walking ring is in fact  Seabiscuit himself, or rather a bronze statue commemorating the career of Seabiscuit himself, even though Seabisuit himself, the real Seabiscuit, died several years before (naturally) any statue could have been or would have been or in fact was commissioned and erected to Seabiscuit and that therefore there is no way Seabiscuit, the real Seabiscuit not the actor horse playing Seabiscuit, could have been walking around and around in a walking ring wherein there was a statue of him.   You know.   Seabiscuit.

     Do I make myself clear?

     Which brings me to “The Godfather”.   Another great, transcendent American film.   But do you recall the scene where Sonny gets shot on the causeway?   James Caan, playing Santino “Sonny” Corleone, is about to pay a toll to go across a causeway bridge so he can go comfort his sister and then go beat up the husband who has just beaten her up, except its all a big frame-up designed to get Sonny out into the open so that the other rival Mafia family (headed by the evil Don Barzini, played by one of my favorite character actors, Richard Conte) can kill him.

     What does this have to do with Sports or this column or anything, I can hear you saying out loud.

     Well, next time you take in “The Godfather” and you are watching this scene, you’ll note that when Sonny drives up to pay the toll the clerk in the toll booth is listening to a baseball game.   No big deal, right?   Except it isn’t just any baseball game.   It is clearly—as any decent baseball fan or baseball historian can tell you—the 9th inning of thee game, a National League playoff game played 60 years ago between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, featuring Russ Hodges’ immortal call of Bobby Thomson’s equally immortal “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” home run, which beat the Dodgers and gave the Giants the National League pennant on October 3rd, 1951.   Any real baseball fan knows the lead-up to that home-run call by heart (“One out, last of the ninth, Branca pitches, Bobby Thomson takes a strike call on the inside corner.…Bobby hitting at two-ninety two….he’s had a single and a double, and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center, Brooklyn leads it four to two….Hartung, down the line at third, not taking any chances….Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one….Branca throws…..”).  

     Unfortunately for Sonny Corleone it is at roughly this juncture when he is gunned down by a hail and farewell of bullets from about five machine guns.   We never do get to hear the actual call of the home run itself.   Neither does he.

     Why is this noteworthy?

     Because it couldn’t have happened!

     Thomson’s home run was in October of ’51.   In “The Godfather”, Sonny is killed in 1947.   Four years earlier.   Four years before the game was even played.

     Francis Ford Coppola (the director of “The Godfather”, who nowadays makes a very fine Chardonnay by the way) could have found any old recording of any old baseball game to have on in the background of that toll booth while Sonny is machine-gunned to ribbons, yet he chose to select the most famous call of the most famous home run ever hit in the most famous baseball game ever played in the whole by-god history of the Major Leagues.

     Don’t you think that’s weird???

     Why do filmmakers leave such glaring historical incongruities in their films?   Is it because, 1.) They don’t grasp or realize what they’ve done?, or, 2.) They’re wry, impish people who enjoy a good esoteric gag now and then and figure nobody idiot-savant-like like me in the audience will notice?, or, 3.) All filmmakers are lazy, or, 4.)  They just don’t care.

Anyway, I’ve always wondered.

 meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0026

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and lover of movies about sports and stuff.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it (using the author’s full name, C. Bradford Eastland) on,, or….


Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:image003

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it (using the author’s full name, C. Bradford Eastland) on,, or….





One Response to “The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Chinatown” and “The Godfather”….both brilliant, but both wonderfully flawed”

  1. Just received your book from Amazon.


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