Of late, studios have been opening their vaults to release a flood of long unseen or hard-to-find movies through various Manufactured-on-Demand (MOD) programs. Sony Pictures Choice Collection is one such outlet, and a rough gem that’s recently emerged from that archive is “The Oklahoma City Dolls,” a 1981 made-for-TV movie that should tweak some Sooner interest.
Coming at a time when football movies were popular (“North Dallas Forty,” ”All the Right Moves,” ”The Best of Times”) and “women’s lib” was a hot topic, this middle-of-the-road programmer by journeyman TV director E.W. Swackhamer found a sweet spot to combine the two.
In a female-empowerment storyline that smacks of “Norma Rae,” the movie focuses on divorced single mom Sally Jo Purkey (Susan Blakely, a poor man’s Sally Field), who’s stuck in a dead-end factory job at the Homa City Valve Company. Riled by the sexism of the company’s male workers and policies that unfairly favor guys who play for the factory’s football team, Sally Jo goads the local equal opportunity official into ordering female workers equivalent time for recreational activities.
A la Norma Rae, the spunky Sally Jo rallies her initially uninspired female co-workers to come out for a women’s football team, and with the requisite fits and starts the Oklahoma City Dolls are born.
The tale is loaded with lots of stereotypes – David Huddleston as the blustery sexist factory manager; Jack Ging as the bully-boy line supervisor; Eddie Albert as the dysfunctional Dolls coach, Homer Sixx; Waylon Jennings as Sally Jo’s shiftless boyfriend, and Ronee Blakely as the Doll’s swift, husband-battered wide receiver.
Swackhamer directs with an efficiency befitting his years in series TV (everything from “Bewitched” to “Murder She Wrote” to “Law & Order”), but he doesn’t quite nail a consistent tone from the script of Ann Beckett (“Rich Man, Poor Man – Book II”), which waffles between angry feminist screed and raucous sports comedy. The feminist stuff is never as hard-hitting as it could be (and feels a little dated at this juncture), and the sports stuff feels slightly coy and secondhand. Best gag: when the ragtag female footballers in mismatched uniforms announce their vital stats to Coach Sixx, each claims to be “5’7” and 125 pounds.”
Typically, “The Oklahoma City Dolls” concludes with a football game finale that rather too conveniently wraps up Sally Jo’s problems and offers a lame, aw-shucks out for the male cast members’ dastardly discrimination.
But even as derivative, dated and patched-together as this whole enterprise feels, it casts sports-crazy Oklahoma City in an appealing enough TV glow to make it worth checking out.
- Dennis King