Tennis and Film

Tennis and Film

Besides watching (& writing about) classic movies one of my other passions is playing (or watching) tennis! The most recent movie about tennis stars Kirsten Dunst & Paul Bettany and is called Wimbledon (2004). It’s a competent story with plenty of court action; that this movie was even made is remarkable because films about tennis are rare. In fact there are only these few that include ANY tennis at all though thankfully some of them are very good films (below this vintage photograph of one of my favorite actresses – Claudette Colbert):

  • Haunted Spooks (1920) – only a two reel Harold Lloyd silent comedy short but it does feature some tennis action however briefly with uncredited actors playing doubles (only one side of the court is shown)
  • Easy Virtue (1928) – Director Alfred Hitchcock as you’ll read frequently incorporated tennis in his films. In this one about 20 minutes in he shows Robin Irvine’s character hitting a few tennis balls before one of his strays hits Isabel Jeans’s character (about whom the title refers) in the face. In fact the director’s cameo is court-side in this movie.
  • The Kiss (1929) – MGM’s (and Greta Garbo’s) last silent picture features some tennis scenes with various silhouetted men & women “hitting” forehands backhands and serves against a backdrop overhead shot of several tennis courts
  • Waterloo Bridge (1931) – no on-screen tennis action but Bette Davis’s character is heard thwacking balls with another person (Frederick Kerr) off-screen while characters played by Douglass Montgomery (with racquet in hand) Mae Clarke and Enid Bennett sit courtside sipping lemonade (50 minutes into the drama)
  • A Lost Lady (1934) – contains a short sequence about 20 minutes into the film with Barbara Stanwyck playing tennis (hitting a couple of forehands though it appears the balls are going to go WAY long) with Lyle Talbot
  • A Woman Rebels (1936) – brief scene of a couple of points played between Doris Dudley’s character and her young beau Jerry (the actor for which is uncredited).
  • Stella Dallas (1937) – has a scene or two with Barbara Stanwyck’s “daughter” playing tennis with the “in crowd” at the country club where she later embarrasses her.
  • The Rains Came (1939) – within ten minutes of the beginning of this one George Brent goes to a tea party where tennis is being played in the background in British India no less.
  • Flight Command (1940) – a little more than an hour into the story Robert Taylor’s and Ruth Hussey’s characters are briefly shown playing tennis in a montage which conveys their growing relationship.
  • Now Voyager (1942) – includes a scene with Bette Davis hitting balls with Paul Henreid’s “daughter ” before they’re interrupted by Claude Rains.
  • Stand By For Action (1942) – features a scene within the first five minutes of Robert Taylor playing tennis with a Commander (Theodore von Eltz uncredited). He plays one point with a forehand approach shot followed by an overhead smash then serves the last point at 40-love to win the match again with an overhead at the net.
  • The Emperor Waltz (1948) – an hour into this Billy Wilder musical (!) there is a scene featuring Joan Fontaine playing tennis with a wooden racquet (on some sort of dirt surface) on the grounds of the Emperor’s palace in the Austrian Alps.
  • Quartet (1948) – brief tennis scene at Wimbledon with Basil Radford’s character discussing his son (a player) with James Robertson Justice’s character (in the days when the winner would jump over the net to greet his opponent vs. fall to his knees or onto his back) within the first 10 minutes of the first story.
  • Come to the Stable (1949) – Celeste Holm plays a French nun/former tennis player that (with her mixed doubles partner) must win a match/bet to raise money ($500) for her hospital. The match occurs near the end of the film – the tennis action is fast and the scoring is accurate; a marathon point decides it.
  • The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) – Fred (Astaire) & Ginger (Rogers) in their first Technicolor and their last film together after 10 years apart playing tennis on a grass court no less
  • Task Force (1949) – about an hour into the film as the attack on Pearl Harbor (by the Japanese during World War II) is underway three ladies (including Jane Wyatt’s character) with tennis racquets in hand are taking to the court to play when one is strafed by an enemy fighter
  • Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) – at the end of the picture before Ronald Reagan’s character and his bride drive away there are tennis courts in the background with two persons hitting and/or retrieving balls
  • Hard Fast and Beautiful (1951) – Directed by Ida Lupino and starring (Academy Award winner) Claire Trevor Sally Forrest and Carleton Young; one of the only true tennis movies
  • Strangers on a Train (1951) – a very good Alfred Hitchcock film which includes some pretty good tennis action (with tension) involving Farley Granger’s playboy character. The director seemed to have an affinity for tennis including a tennis racquet in an earlier film Lifeboat (1944); it is retrieved from the sinking ship and used by John Hodiak to break a floating baby’s bottle.
  • Pat and Mike (1952) – A Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy romantic comedy that includes a lot of footage of the actress playing various sports and a funny tennis match with (e.g.) the net getting higher her racquet getting smaller etc.
  • Mr Hulot’s Holiday (1953) – wacky French film about the title character (played by actor Jacques Tati) taking a vacation and inadvertently disrupting everyone else’s good time. Includes a scene where Hulot using an unusual method of serving (as if his racquet were a fly swatter beats several opponents before they lose the ball.
  • Dial M for Murder (1954) – another good Hitchcock which shows no tennis but Ray Milland’s character was an ex-tennis player
  • Tea and Sympathy (1956) – John Kerr’s “sister boy” character plays a couple of points in a match wooden racquets and white balls even though he serves from the deuce court at 40-30;-)
  • Gigi (1958) – Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan play tennis at the beach she falls down laughing he climbs over the net
  • I’m All Right Jack (1959) – begins with a scene at a nudist colony where (in the far background) naked women are playing doubles switches to a closer scene where a fully dressed man (lead character Ian Carmichael) is asked by the women to return their ball; embarrassed he does. The film closes with a similar scene at the same colony where Carmichael is now a participant (i.e. also nude) and being asked by the ladies to join their game; still embarrassed he is chased away by them into the ‘sunset’
  • School for Scoundrels (1960) – the tennis matches (not played on grass!) in this British comedy are integral to the main character’s transformation from doormat to “Charles Atlas”. Lots of points played and accurately tallied though the “house rules” in the initial contest are hard to fathom; the balls vary between superball bouncy and dead and the net has no center strap.
  • Blowup (1966) – includes a fascinating tennis match played entirely in pantomime
  • Belle de jour (1967) – Catherine Deneuve is seen walking away from some red clay courts where people are playing tennis. She is dressed in tennis attire presumably because she just played before she walks up some steps and into the club.
  • The Arrangement (1969) – within the last 10 minutes of the film when Kirk Douglas’s character has finally landed himself in a sanitorium there is a brief scene of his fellow “inmates” playing tennis in the background
  • Claire’s Knee (1970) aka Le genou de Claire (1970) – features a couple of scenes that include tennis: the first in the background (about 11 minutes in) several courts with players are seen; the second (about an hour in) includes the ending point of a match followed by two other men warming up to play while a young couple watches waits and comments on the players’ abilities. The court appears to be made of wooden planks (?)!
  • The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) – contains several scenes in which tennis is played (with wooden racquets and white balls!) in the background mostly within the first third but also in the closing credits
  • Le souffle au coeur (1971) aka Murmur of the Heart (1971) – almost 70 minutes into it there’s a scene of two of the main characters on a red clay court hitting some balls back and forth (badly) to each other; neither can return the other’s shots.
  • The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971) – ends at a tennis club; some action can be seen in the background but otherwise there are only conversations between the principle characters that include Richard Benjamin Adam West Elizabeth Ashley and Sidney Poitier’s future wife Joanna Shimkus (the last film of her brief ‘career’).
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) – one extremely brief shot about 20 minutes into the film and a longer one in the closing minutes of some people playing tennis across the street from the doctor’s apartment.
  • Breezy (1973) – a little more than 45 minutes into the film William Holden’s character (who never has to hit a backhand) is shown playing an extended point against left-handed Roger Carmel’s character – aluminum racquets and white balls on a hard court – which Holden’s wins before ‘jumping’ the net to shake hands with his opponent.
  • The Way We Were (1973) – contains a scene in and around a tennis club & courts
  • The Exorcist (1973) – about an hour into the film right after the introduction of Lee J. Cobb’s character he and Jason Miller are discussing the mysterious death while walking. Behind them as a backdrop are people playing tennis. The scene lasts for several minutes and three different twosomes are seen playing.
  • The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973) – during the opening credits there is a brief scene of a men’s doubles match in which the server hits his net man in the back of the head with the ball causing his partner to fall over the net.
  • Lenny (1974) – a couple of different times during the interviews with the comedian’s business manager one can see tennis being played in the background (through the window of the agent’s office); easy to miss.
  • The Stepford Wives (1975) – about 45 minutes into the story Katharine Ross and Tina Louise are seen hitting a few Spalding tennis balls across the net on a backyard hardcourt which is then bulldozed later in the movie.
  • Shampoo (1975) – also about 45 minutes into this one the over-sexed main character – a hairdresser played by Warren Beatty naturally – arrives at a wealthy client’s house where her daughter (Carrie Fisher’s auspicious film debut two years before Star Wars (1977)) is learning how to hit forehands from (ostensibly) a pro on the backyard hard court. Fisher’s character has a signature Jack Kramer (white wooden) racquet.
  • Annie Hall (1977) – Woody Allen and Diane Keaton first meet and start dating after playing mixed doubles
  • Black Samurai (1977) – after the opening credits Jim Kelly (the martial arts expert who also played pro tennis) in the title role plays most of a game on ‘his’ private court against a female opponent while making a couple of men wait impatiently for him to finish.
  • California Suite (1978) – In this Neil Simon comedy Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby play a couple of doctors that battle in a couple of tennis scenes (with their ‘wives’ playing mixed doubles) in the latter half of the film. First Pryor’s character calls two of Cosby’s serves out (even though they were in) then Cosby’s character serves into his wife’s back. Later Pryor lobs Cosby’s overhead – he and his wife both try to retrieve and her racquet ends up smashed over his head – then Pryor and his wife trip around and across the net trying to get to their injured opponents. The scenes are played on a hotel hard court with wooden racquets and orange tennis balls.
  • Little Mo (1978) – I haven’t seen this one so I hestitated before including it (especially because it’s a TV movie) but I’ve received some inquiries about it – it’s a biography of Maureen Connolly’s life – and it is definitely about tennis. If I ever get a chance to see it (it’s not available through Amazon or Netflix) I’ll update this entry.
  • Players (1979) – an awful film starring Dean Martin’s son (before he died tragically) is about the only one (besides Hard Fast and Beautiful (1951) & Wimbledon (2004)) that I know of with a story which revolves around tennis the game and/or those who play it.
  • Shoot the Moon (1982) – without actually being about the sport itself I think it’s safe to say that there is more action on a tennis court in this drama than almost any other movie on this list (and as a bonus one gets to see snippets of the court being built)!
  • Trading Places (1983) – brief scene at an indoor club of some tennis action in the background (during serenade); appears to be a mixed doubles match: a couple of volleys by a female net player (stretch for ball over her head) followed by some angled ‘drop’ volleys by her male opponent (wooden racquets and white tennis balls).
  • Bachelor Party (1984) – within the first half hour there are two brief comedic scenes of tennis action. The first involves Tom Hanks and his bride-to-be Tawny Kitaen playing with her parents (George Grizzard & Barbara Stuart); Hanks’ immature character belts two balls over the fence and celebrates as if he’s hit homeruns. The second features Hanks’ rival (Robert Prescott) crushing a tennis ball in his hand.
  • Fletch (1985) – there’s a 4-minute sequence a little more than 20 minutes into the movie in which Chevy Chase (in the title role) visits a tennis club and there’s some tennis action in the background. He then meets/flirts with a blonde (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) who’s not doing so well against a ball machine so he shows her the “ready position” and actually hits a ball (with the cover still on his racquet) during his instruction.
  • A Room with a View (1985) – there are several scenes on and around a grass lawn tennis court: the first involves the hitting of a tethered ball with tennis racquets and later some pivotal scenes in the drama occur after some tennis action including looking for errant balls in the surrounding trees and bushes some readings from a book a rushed ‘assault’ kiss and the would-be groom’s refusal to play which causes his bride-to-be to reconsider her betrothed.
  • The Last Emperor (1987) – about 80 minutes into this epic biography of Pu Yi there is a scene of a tennis court and game taking place within China’s Forbidden City; the emperor is playing mixed doubles tennis – serving underhand to win a point – before the 1924 military coup forced him out of his home and cloistered existence since 1908.
  • Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987) aka L’ami de mon amie (1987) – set in Paris there’s a scene about 30 minutes in at the Roland Garros tennis venue (site of the French Open). Ivan Lendl is seen serving on the red “terre battue” (clay) from the deuce side – only half of the court is shown so his opponent can’t be identified – on one of the stadium courts (pre-renovation so it’s hard to tell but it could be Court Philippe Chatrier).
  • Un homme amoureux (1987) aka A Man in Love (1987) – features Jamie Lee Curtis’ character playing tennis (against an unidentified man) while her husband (played by Peter Coyote) taunts and berates her.
  • The Witches of Eastwick (1987) – fantasy threesome for Jack Nicholson playing doubles with Susan Sarandon against Michele Pfeiffer and Cher; some magic enhanced points which include the ball stopping and traveling in slow motion.
  • Nobody’s Perfect (1990) – tennis is an essential element of this (full of plot holes) teenage “Tootsie”; Chad Lowe’s character gets a college scholarship that’s threatened when he falls for a female tennis player (Gail O’Grady); his entrepreneurial friend (Patrick Breen) suggests that he pretend to be a female player himself in order to get closer to her. Vitas Gerulaitis appears briefly as Lowe’s tennis coach. Plenty of court action mostly practices culminates in a climactic tennis doubles match in which Lowe and O’Grady’s characters partner to win a third set tiebreaker and the championship.
  • Revenge (1990) – Twelve minutes into this drama Kevin Costner’s character finds wealthy Anthony Quinn’s on his court with a ball machine; after some friendly banter Costner aces Quinn and it’s over. At the 46 minute mark Costner and Quinn play a money match ($500/head doubles) against two others with Costner smashing match point into a guy that had called his ‘in’ serves ‘out’.
  • Total Recall (1990) – in this sci-fi thriller the character played by Sharon Stone is shown to be practicing tennis strokes (serves actually) by following a hologram of an instructor doing the same.
  • Chaplin (1992) – about an hour into the film Charlie Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr.) is serving a few points to Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline) who calls most of the serves “out”. Later in the film Chaplin is shown leaving the court with his manservant presumably after having just played a match with him.
  • Clueless (1995) – twenty minutes in there is a brief scene on the high school’s tennis courts during gym class; Alicia Silverstone’s character & her ‘friends’ avoid participating by giving a variety of excuses to the ‘coach’ while a ball machine shoots yellow tennis balls at them.
  • Donnie Brasco (1997) – about 50 minutes into the drama shortly after the action shifts to Florida there is a short sequence on a tennis court where balls are being hit between the “tough guys” dressed in street clothes. It would be hard to say that a tennis match is being played – it’s more like target practice – and predictably it ends in a fight.
  • Rushmore (1998) – there’s a brief scene (about 40 minutes in) of the three major characters sitting in chairs and holding racquets between tennis courts dressed to play but no action.
  • The In Crowd (2000) – the setting of this thriller is a posh country club so a scene of people playing on tennis courts is in the background early on then there’s a brief scene of the tennis pro playing against a ball machine and one other later in the drama in which the pro is seen talking with one of the female leads.
  • Mr Deeds (2002) – after meeting tennis great John McEnroe (appearing in a cameo as himself) at a restaurant in New York City the title character (played by Adam Sandler) decides to take up tennis. At a hard court on the bay he plays a few comical points in which he nails a spectator and then his serving opponent (Peter Gallagher) in the chest face and then throat with his returns of serve.
  • Two Weeks Notice (2002) – features a scene with a few points of mixed doubles tennis being played (the score is called wrong per the players’ positions on the ‘green’ clay court); the game serves as a proxy for a “cat fight” between Sandra Bullock’s character and Alicia Witt’s both of whom ‘pine’ for Hugh Grant’s. It ends when Bullock’s is hit in the head and “knocked out” by a Witt forehand.
  • Wimbledon (2004) – plenty of court action and a thrilling climactic match playing much like a boxing movie a sport which compares metaphorically with tennis on many levels. The love story that holds it together isn’t better or worse than any other it fills the bill much like the one in Titanic (1997) did (plus this one throws in a bonus a sweet reconciliation involving an older couple). It could and probably should have excluded the egregious stereotypes (e.g. gay women players etc.) but thankfully precious little time is given to them. It seems as if the filmmakers felt obligated to throw in a few scenes that otherwise don’t belong just to include these though; how sad. Plus it was kind of funny to have little Kirsten Dunst play a female version of John McEnroe (who’s also in the film along with Chris Evert & Mary Carillo as a commentator) – “chalk flew up”. Overall fans of the sport should be pleased that (finally) a decent film about tennis has been made. It’s a real shame that it was a financial failure though; this may have contributed to its snub by the Academy (no special effects Oscar nomination?).
  • Match Point (2005) has got some tennis action in it (at the beginning) though it’s mostly an instructor hitting to a student. Otherwise it’s an above average drama from director Woody Allen. The film opens with a shot of a tennis net over which a yellow ball is passing though one can’t see much of the court and certainly not the players. A narrator says that “we” don’t realize how important luck is in our lives and relates it to when a tennis ball hits the tape and for a brief moment appears as if it can fall on either side. This is significant later in the movie. The main character (who’s been narrating) is a former tennis pro from Ireland who finds himself a job teaching students how to play or improve their game at a club in London (hardcourts not grass). One of his students is a wealthy young man of similar age; they become friends based upon a mutual interest in opera! After that the former pro meets his new friend’s sister who shows more than a casual interest such that he finds himself being set-up in the business world by her father and would-be in-law. Unfortunately for the pro his wealthy friend’s fiancee is a stunningly sexy blonde a wannabe actress with whom he’s soon hopelessly obsessed. And so it goes … I’d recommend this (almost) Hitchcock-like thriller which though flawed is compelling for nearly all of its two hour running time. However I don’t think that women will find it particularly interesting even if they do play tennis unless they find Jonathan Rhys Meyers (the tennis pro) so attractive that they’re willing to forgive his character’s actions and (well I don’t want to spoil it) the film’s message.
  • The Squid and the Whale (2005) – opens with a husband (Jeff Daniels) and wife (Laura Linney) playing doubles with their teen and preteen sons on an indoor clay court with wooden racquets (that are too old for the 1986 setting of the film) and yellow balls. Less than a handful of points are played because the wife quits when the older son and his dad play a bit too aggressively to win. A few more tennis court scenes are featured including two with William Baldwin as Ivan the tennis pro – that reportedly once played with Arthur Ashe – giving lessons to the youngest boy who swears worse than a sailor about his poor performance.
  • Tennis Anyone…? (2005) – starring co-writers Donal Logue (who also directed) and Kirk Fox (former tennis pro that was Clint Eastwood’s son-in-law for a brief period) this buddy picture ‘comedy’ uses celebrity tennis charity tournaments as the backdrop for a rather thin story about a troubled actor (Logue) and his Zen-like friend a wannabe actor and former pro (Fox). Lots of realistic tennis action including a climactic grudge match from a subplot about revenge involving a character played by Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). Former tennis champ Luke Jensen appears briefly.
  • Cheaper By The Dozen 2 (2005) – this insufferable remake-sequel has a comedic scene about 50 minutes into it that features Steve Martin and Eugene Levy playing against one another in a mixed doubles match with their wives. It’s interrupted when a golf cart (driven by their children) crashes through the court’s fence and tennis net.
  • Confetti (2006) – Couple (number 2) Josef & Isabelle are so obsessed with tennis that they compete in a contest to get their dream a tennis-themed wedding. Within the first 10 minutes there are two brief scenes of some tennis action then there’s an extended “dress rehearsal on a tennis court” sequence about 25 minutes into it. The ‘actual’ wedding scene is quite hokey – they say their vows while the score (“15-love” etc.) is incremented – on a simulated court with fanfare and too much choreography at about the 70 minute mark.
  • Congorama (2006) – exactly 6 minutes into this foreign language feature there is a brief scene on a clay tennis court. A boy is hitting balls fed to him by a female tennis coach while a man sitting in the adjacent stands yells instructions to him like “hit it harder!” and “follow through!” in conflict with what the pro is telling him to do.
  • A Good Year (2006) – this movie has a couple of different tennis scenes: a few points (the end of a ‘match’) played between young Max (Freddie Highmore) and his Uncle / mentor Henry (Albert Finney) and a much longer match later between a grown up Max (Russell Crowe) and his uncle’s winemaker (Didier Bourdon); it takes the form of a grudge match and it includes lots of sweating and several comical points that end in the physical destruction of much of the clay court’s environs.
  • Turn Around (2007) and Overcome (2008) – essentially the same film both with a tennis (and faith-based) theme. Plenty of on-court action though it’s clear that the actors are not very talented players. The female lead is a promising high school player until a car accident – and a knee injury – seemingly derails her ambition to be selected for an elite summer tennis program. However with help from one of the males responsible for her injury she rehabs recovers and has a chance to achieve her goal in the end.
  • Unstrung (2008) – a documentary about seven rising stars on the junior circuit in 2005 including Donald Young and Sam Querrey (whose footage was obviously tacked on at the last) executive produced by Jim Courier and featuring comments from Pete Sampras Andre Agassi Andy Roddick John McEnroe and Nick Bollettieri which culminates in Kalamazoo. Lots of tennis action though the cinematography is crude and often amateur.
  • A Single Man (2009) – twenty minutes into it there is a scene in which Colin Firth in the title role as a professor discretely (yet salaciously) observes a couple of bare-chested college boys playing tennis on a campus clay court. Since it’s set in 1962 they’re using wood racquets with white balls.
  • Bridesmaids (2011) – the beginnings of the rivalry between two of the bridesmaids plays out in a women’s doubles match in which both aim for the other trying to hit shots at the other’s chest (some shown in slow motion) with great success.
  • The Artist (2011) – contains a brief scene in which the main characters converge on a tennis court racquets in hand but no tennis action.
  • Septien (2011) – less than 20 minutes in the main character walks onto a tennis court where two men have just warmed up to play and challenges the nearest to a match for $50. He accepts in part because his opponent is in street clothes and a hoodie but is beaten. Most of the points played are shown from the perspective of the net but there is at least one view shot from the baseline in which the hustler hits a tweener lob winner.
  • Parental Guidance (2012) – the father of the kids in the film departs for a business awards conference in Hilton Head and while communicating with his wife via telephone is shown to be at a tennis club. Several glimpses of tennis being played – on green (clay?) courts – in the background can be made.
  • About Time (2013) – features a brief scene of tennis being played (on grass no less) in the first third of the movie.

I can’t think of anymore at the moment and I’ve excluded those which include just a picture of a tennis racquet or one in the background.

1 Comment on Tennis and Film

  1. Hi, I should say this is a great list, a job well done. indeed.
    Also ‘d like to add this movie… “The Extraordinary Adventure of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)” . a kind of female Indiana Jones.
    Best regards,

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