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Rowing in the Movies
posted on February 2, 2005


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Midsomer Murders Dead in the Water episode, Henley
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List of rowing scenes appearing in media, as suggested on RowingMasters listserve. In many instances, more information is available at www.imdb.com, or at the links below. This list is by no means exhaustive, and accuracy is not guaranteed, but it's a start! Listed in order of production. The thread was headed by Margot Zalkind, with thanks to Deb Klingaman for compiling, and to the USRowing Masters Committee for asking. Revised 2/5/05; see also the Rabbit's in-depth look at many of the same "films:" Rabbit's Guide to Rowing Films.

  • College, 1927. A Buster Keaton movie in which a hapless Keaton tries to woo the girl by being manly and sporting - fails terribly at track, then finds his niche as a coxswain for the college crew team. He doesn't "fix" the boat during the critical race, but he does resort to drastic measures to stay on course . . . See this movie if you love rowing and if you love athleticism and laughter - Keaton is an amazing athlete and physical comedian.

  • Eight Girls in a Boat, 1934. About rowing -- featured women of the ZLAC rowing club

  • Freshman Love, (also released under the name Rhythm on the River), 1936. It is similar to many college films of the era that carry the theme: Dimwitted athletics vs nerdy academics. The twist is that this is Billings U., with a rowing team that lacks any punch.

  • Olympia Part 2, A Festival of Beauty, 1938, directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

  • A Yank at Oxford (1938). Lionel Barrymore in a tale of the crass American who crosses the pond to save the day.

  • Blondie Goes to College, 1942. When Dagwood decides to enroll in college, Mr. Dithers suggests that Blondie join him. Funny situations don't stop coming as Blondie gets attention from the university's top athlete and Dagwood joins the rowing team and finds favor with a pretty coed. Arthur Lake, Penny Singleton, Janet Blair and Larry Parks star. 68 min.

  • A Hard Day's Night, 1964. Ringo along the shore during the "This Boy" number, while a couple of scullers are off in the background. Look hard for the sculler who has flipped.

  • Half a Sixpence, 1967. Tommie Steele stars as a lower class bloke around the turn of the century who inherits a lot of money. The stiffs then invite him into their rowing circle. For those rowers who think that life is just one big musical, there is a Gilbert and Sullivanesque version of Henley not to be missed.

  • Thomas Crown Affair, 1968. The original movie with Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway. Rowing (all 3 seconds of it which took all day) done by Union Boat Club- so there is rowing outside of Philly!

  • The Magic Christian, 1969. The main character (Peter Sellers) sets out to show that everybody has a PRICE--if the money is great enough, anybody will do anything. A coxswain is paid off and one of the Cambridge/Oxford boats rams the other.

  • The Strawberry Statement - I believe was released in 1970 or 1971. It was based on a book of the same name that was written by a Columbia University student who had joined the radical movement but was ambivalent about it. It's been over thirty years since I've seen it, but I remember a rowing scene early in the movie inwhich the cox'n is calling out individual seat numbers and harassing the rowers; the line that stayed with me was: "Seat two, [expletive] you!" Soundtrack included "The Circle Game" (sung by Buffy Saint-Marie) and Neil Young's whine-rock classic, "Helpless."

  • The Way We Were, 1973. Barbra Streisand, a political activist, and Robert Redford, in the military, meet several times starting in college and form an unlikely relationship which is disapproved of by each of their peers. Has rowing, and is good for nostalgia.

  • Oxford Blue, 1984. Rob Lowe in a film that purports to show that you don't need to do maintenance on the boats, since you can fix your boat during a race and still win. For you purists, boat burning takes place only after eights, not after ad hoc coxless pairs grudge matches against Harvard. Update of a Yank at Oxford.

  • Hey Babu Riba, 1986. Made in the former Yugoslavia, a coming-of-age story of five close friends - four teenage boys and their female coxswain. Subtitles.

  • Amazing Grace and Chuck, 1987. Has a little rowing, a nice view of the Weeks Footbridge on the Charles and references to crew (as well as the annoying coxswain supposedly saying "stroke", but is also just a great schmaltzy movie with Jamie Lee Curtis.

  • Boy in Blue, 1987. Nicholas Cage is the 1880's champ Ned Hanlan back when rowing was as popular as football is in the US and soccer is in the rest of the world. High stakes with lots of money changing hands.

  • Dead Poets Society, 1989 English professor John Keating (Robin Williams) inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day. He brings the students outside for an exercise outside the classroom...about 3-5 seconds of rowing.

  • Indochine, 1992. Some rowing footage and is a beautiful movie. Has subtitles though.

  • Philadelphia, 1993. Subtle references to Tom Hanks' character having rowed. When they show the interior of his loft, he has an oar hanging up, and some photos of boats scattered around.

  • The River Wild, 1994. Starring Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep. Meryl indoctrinates the peaceful climate of the early portion of the film with a competent Charles River practice. It lasts for about 2 minutes, it seemed. The camera work is well done, and I was *very* impressed with the ability for Meryl to actually row a King single for this part. I remember she was coached for only about 2-3 weeks before filming. There are a couple of stunt doubles for some overheads, but overall it was a good addition. Google search reveals she donated this single to the Yale Library for its Eakins exhibit.

  • With Honors (1994) starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser to the list. Moira Kelly's character is a Harvard coxswain in this movie.

  • Carrington, 1995. Lansbury Rowing Club has their 15 minutes of fame supporting Emma Thompson.

  • Rowing Through, 1996. Look for cameo appearances by Tiff Wood, Joe Bouscaren, John Biglow and Harry Parker.

  • True Blue, 1996. Adaptation of the book of the same name about the 1987 Oxford Mutiny.

  • Sliding Doors, 1998. Stars Gwyneth Paltrow, who dates a rower.

  • Enemy of the State (1998); - Will smith actually rowed in "Enemy of the State". The filming was done from The Washington Canoe Club's dock and clubhouse but Potomac rowers were the "rowing extras". Dave miller was Smith;s rowing stunt double, (Aquil turned the job down) and Eric Edmonds was Will's coworker friend's rowing stunt double. Emanual Caudron can be clearly seen in one of the scenes in a 2x as well as Jake Higley rowing with Thea True in a 2x and Olwen Huxley in her 1x. Doug Sanders and Conal Groom were in a 2x but were too far away in the scene to be made out anything more than a dot. (Luck of the draw I guess). Doug Sanders was in a Locker room scene but that footage was cut and they re-shot that scene in hollywood with actual lockers shipped from the canoe club. Two 15 hour days of filming (we got paid pretty well for all that time) resulted in about 20 sec of footage, if that. Will Smith and his co-worker each rowed old wooden gigs in the on-the-water scenes.

  • Kimberly, 1999. Film about four rowers and their cox, shot in Philadelphia. Lots of rowing including scenes with Ted Nash and national team rowers.

  • Sixth Sense, 1999. Bruce Willis' character is a rower and the opening pans the apartment walls with rowing plaques and trophies. Also, in one scene, he is sitting alone watching a video of his wedding. That footage was shot on the deck of Undine. Took three days, included filming footage of races, of all things...typical Shyamalan...shoots the limit of footage and uses little...always appears on the "making of..." in the DVD. More on this one from Greg Kaplan: Extras for 6th Sense included me, Bob Kaehler, and Rob Connoly (masters rower @ FRA). We sat in 1xs, about 20' from the undine dock, and waved to those on the dock. We were to have been "background" for the wedding scene (was a videotape within the movie). We all wound up on the "cuting room floor". However, a picture of an Undine 8 featuring, among others, Frank Rowe, Andy McMarlin, Bob Kaehler, and Jim Barker (coach) did make it into the movie. Of course the .5" you get to see of it, you would not recognize the individuals--for that, you need to be in the Undine locker room to see it for yourself. Bruce Willis was always kidding and nice to EVERYONE on the set. At 5'9" (at best), he probably would have been a feisty lightweight. The Philly connection: the director was an '89 Episcopal Academy grad.

  • The Skulls, 2000. The film's premise is very loosely based on the Skull & Bones fraternity at Yale University, which included screenwriter John Pogue, as well as George and George W. Bush, as members. Stars Joshua Jackson and Hill Harper had never rowed before making this film, so they trained for several weeks in order to perform the rowing scenes themselves." There were sequels as well: Skulls II and Skulls 3; not sure if these include rowing

  • How High, 2001. Two guys decide to smoke something magical, which eventually helps them to ace their college entrance exam. This eventually lands them in Harvard, where they're surrounded by the world of Ivy Leaguers. Although their new lifestyle is much different from back home, they kept on having fun until their supernatural smoke runs out. Now, they are on their own and they have to rely on each other to survive.

  • The Emperor's Club, 2002. Kevin Kline as Mr. Hundert states that a "day that starts with rowing on the lake is better than a day that does not," even though the scenes with Kline in his 'single' are not believable.

  • Mona Lisa Smile, 2003. Set in 1953, Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is a free-spirited graduate of UCLA who accepts a teaching post at Wellesley College, a women-only school where the students are torn between the repressive mores of the time and their longing for intellectual freedom.

  • My Brother's Keeper, 2003. Two brothers torn by the heat of competition. One wants victory, the other wants a scholarship. When one goes away to an Ivy Leage college, the brothers bond is torn apart. At the end, they meet to compete AGAINST one another, and only one can win.

  • Miracle at Oxford, 2004. The incredible true story of how the Oxford University rowing team overcame obstacles to win back its honor. When Oxford's accomplished rowing team loses its winning streak to arch-enemy Cambridge, they promise to come back the next year with a win, no matter what sacrifices they have to make. But with luck working against them, the struggles ahead could tear the team apart.

    The Notebook, 2004. The movie focuses on an old man reading a story to an old woman in a nursing home. Brief rowing scene.

  • From John Hogan:
    And then there is the other category: best rowing scenes that never made it past the film editor.
    Late October 2003, when a film crew was in Philadelphia filming Nick Cage in "National Treasure" they asked for rowing teams to be filmed. It was the Friday of Head of the Charles so almost no body was in town but me and some Temple freshmen and their coach Tim Hagan.

    Two Temple eights set up just above the dam. A specially adapted filming helicopter zoomed down the river over the eights as they started to race up the river, The helicopter was so low to the water that it had to quickly rise to avoid the dam safety cable. So low that its propellers stirred the water.

    This happened twice. I had a fabulous viewing site from the dock of Undine Barge Club. Couldn't wait to see the movie. But the scenes were cut from the final edition.

    Tim is trying to get a copy of the editor's cuts.

    TV SHOWS:
  • Longstreet, starring James Franciscus, 1971-1972. During the opening credits he was rowing a single in NY during the winter before he lost his sight.

  • Spenser: For Hire, 1985. Starred Robert Urich.

  • Silken Lauman Story (1996). Made for TV movie

  • Midsomer Murders "DEAD IN THE WATER", 1997. A body is found in the River Thames during the annual Midsomer Regatta: ladies' man Guy Sweetman appears to have been killed after arguing with his friends Philip Trent and John Parkway from the rowing club. When Barnaby & Scott dig into the luxury lifestyles of the members, they discover a network of money problems and sexual jealousy. Sir Steven Redgrave as "Scout." There is a photo of the filming of this episode on row2k

  • Providence, 1999-2002. Starred Melina Kanakaredes; had a single in their opening credits.

  • Joan of Arcadia, 2003 --. My friend, Deanna, and I appear (very briefly) in 2 episodes. The show's site location crew did some filming in Wilmington, DE, and we had arranged to be on the water one morning. We rowed up and down the beautiful Christina River until the helicopter showed up and hovered around filming for a while. We are "featured" in the episodes - "Drive, He Said" and "Makeup Class". (Patty, Wilmington Rowing Center)

  • Myth Busters on the Discovery Channel - The myth-busting duo attempted to prove/disprove that a rowing shell could pull a water skier. A men's college crew (after a few tries) proved that it could be done!

  • Also, at present Wheel of Fortune is airing shows shot in Philadelphia, and includes an opening sequence of Vanna White coxing on the Schuylkill. Luke Agnini reports: "Funny you mentioned the Wheel of Fortune that shot in Philly. We actually rowed a Penn AC 8 that Vanna coxed. I got to sit in stroke seat...it was hysterical. She is about 5'2'' and still looks pretty good. We tried asking her out, but she just said she was old enough to be our mother. At the end she hugged all of us and I think the majority of the group went around for a second hug."

  • During the opening credits of "The Tony Randall Show" (1976) Randall, who plays a Philadelphia municipal court judge, is rowing a 1x.

  • Banacek, with George Peppard, is seen "rowing" in the opening credits

  • In Will Smith's video for the song "Summertime" they are cruising down kelly drive and there are a few eights racing.

  • Kojak movie, Letterman, Gillette ads: Ed, I am sure you have been flooded with these, but I am surprised you left this one out. The Kojak movie opens with a sculler, (Dave Filosa) finding a body at the Columbia dock after a workout on the Harlem. Come to think of it, maybe you left this one out on purpose. It hits a little too close to home for those of us who have spent time on the Harlem.

    Carol also ended up in this movie as they were filming the detectives in a car coming up Riverside Drive in front of 560. She just happened to be walking to the No. 1 on her way to work.

    There is another category; rowing in commercials. Gillette ad, "The best a man can get" was filmed off the Columbia Dock with a combination of NY, power ten types, and Penn AC athletes. We ended up short a guy so I ended up in the bow of one of the three eights racing by. The shot focused on the stern pair of one of the crews, one guy was a model taught to row by someone at Columbia, you maybe, I don't really remember.

    Also, Dave letterman coxed a four, while sidekick Paul Shafer stroked another one, (we taught him how to row in about 10 minutes.) one BU and one Northeastern crew filled with alums of course, can't have undergrads, racing on the Charles. The original idea was for Letterman to row and Paul to cox, but Dave took one look and said, "I ain't doin' that"

    Anyway it was a brief skit on the Letterman show, shot off the Northeastern dock sometime in the early 90's, maybe 92-3.

  • Hold the Back Page: From Nick Hartland: BBC in the UK had a TV series in the UK in 1985 called Hold The Back Page, starring David Warner of The Omen fame as a cynical hack. In one episode, a male model was filmed 'racing' at Henley, and having been knocked out of the Royal Regatta earlier that day in my London Welsh 8, we were bribed out of the Stewards Enclosure with promises of more Pimms than we could shake a blade at to double as 'the crew'.

    We paddled over for the side-on shots without any problem, but when it came to taking our star rower on board, he proved more model than bladesmith.

    Told to make it look as if were racing flat out, but 'go a bit easy on our lad, he hasn't rowed before', we drifted down river at a stately 12 strokes a minute, agony suitably etched on our faces as our 'oarsman' crabbed his way over the entire Henley reach, soaking the cameraman in the 5 and six seats in front, and producing footage that would have been better seen in Meryl Streep's The River Wild.

    Lifting the rate to 13 strokes a minute in a 'push' for the line, the director shouted for us to collapse in exhaustion as we crossed the finish. While our 'actor' managed a 'mildly out of breath, just run for the bus' sort of puff of the cheeks, our bow pair John Rayer and Dave Kidwell proceeded to produce the whole method book of acting in one go, throwing their blades away, falling into the bottom of the boat and expiring with all the grace of the dying swan.

    When screened, the director artfully speeded up the rowing footage to show some modicum of reality. But there was nothing to be done for our dramatic duo, who collapsed again.. and again... and again to ever increasing hilarity on our videos for weeks afterwards. If only they'd actually pulled that hard, we might have won something!

    MISC:

  • Rowing to Latitude: Journeys along the Arctic's Edge, by Jill Fredston. Travel stories about kayaking and rowing around the arctic with her husband. Great images.

  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. A coming of age story at a boys' school in New Hampshire, just before WWII. Minor incident with the main character at the boathouse. Still required reading in some freshman lit classes.



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