Sports film is a genre that has been largely ignored by cinematologists. Except for some work done at Pennsylvania State University, notably George Steppupson’s “The Flying Ball – Hollywood Looks at Sport in the Mid 20th Century” and, in Film Views, Vol. 1, No. 2, Gordon Kluliss’ “Why Not Dubuque?” (which discusses one particular aspect of Rack and Wruin), very little study has been done in this important area.
At first glance, Rack and Wruin appears to be, like most sports films, just another exercise in the portrayal of a flawed and jejune hero who comes, at last, to the maturing conclusion that winning isn’t everything. But, with his emphasis on the aesthetics of the sport in question, instead of its competitive aspects, Hupp breaks new ground. In Rack and Wruin, Hupp treats sport as a ritual, rather than a game.
It was with this distinction in mind that Dr. Kluliss, in “Why Not Dubuque?” examining the question of why, when he recites his naming-tale, the protagonist, Honest John, sets it in an imaginary place, called “Medicine Hat,” instead of a real locale, such as Dubuque or Chicago, finds the answer in the white-hat/black-hat distinction, found more often in the Western film genre, which has been traced back to shamanistic practices carried into the Western Hemisphere over the Bering Land Bridge.