by Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)
After discovering Akron’s presence in the Oscar winner “Room” (full review online at thefilmfreak.com), I decided to dig even further into Hollywood’s archives to find the best flicks that reference or feature Akron. I found over 20 films and even a few television shows that showcase the Rubber City. Below are my five favorites. Enjoy!
A film that takes place entirely in Akron, “25 Hill” is about an 11-year-old boy whose derby dreams are shattered when his soldier father is killed in Afghanistan. The boy teams up with a father figure whose own son, a firefighter, died in the line of duty, and the two help each other find redemption and revive the derby. This film served as a boost in advertising for one of Akron’s oldest traditions during the summer of 2010, when the film was shot all over Summit County. “Major League” actor Corbin Bernsen directed and starred this heartwarming tale, bringing its estimated $1 million budget to Akron. In addition to the Soap Box Derby, the film features shots of downtown, most notably Main Street. “25 Hill” is the only film on this list to shoot the majority of its scenes in our town.
As we’re on the front end of an election year, this is a perfect pick. Two former US Presidents (Jack Lemmon, James Garner), who are hated rivals, join forces to expose the current, corrupt President (Dan Akroyd) at the risk of their lives. Midway through the film, the two presidents discuss a hideout point in Akron, which Lemmon says is right next to his presidential library in Cuyahoga Falls. This Akron appearance used to always crack me up because there are Douglas Fir trees, as well as mountains in the background. Not exactly the best representation of Akron on the list, but it is my personal favorite of the films included on this list for the back-and-forth bickering between the main protagonists, that offers lots of Republican vs. Democrats slighting. Lemmon is a Republican representative from Summit County, and the movie leaves us in a dreamlike state, as we wonder what the world would be like under an Akronite’s leadership.
“The Great Buck Howard” (2008)
When a law school dropout (Colin Hanks) answers an advertisement to be a personal assistant he unknowingly signs on to work for a belligerent has-been magician (John Malkovich) struggling to resurrect his career. This leads to a journey across the country staging the comeback of a lifetime. The film features a stop in a quite familiar city, that is featured as a stop in Howard’s redemption tour. The audience is treated to Malkovich’s enriched enjoyment of our city, when outside of a building where Howard just performed, he yells “I LOVE THIS TOWN!!”. What I like about this appearance is that the people of Akron are given a lot of spirit and excitement for someone they believe in. The spot is brief, but with Akron on his side, Buck is blessed with the support to keep going on his tour after a rocky start.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)
The film follows the life of a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, most at his own doing. During the beginning of the third act for the film, Davis heads to the midwest for a business opportunity in Chicago. After another failed chance, Davis heads back to New York, but has a near fatal accident on Route 8, just ten miles outside of Akron. This pick is a little shaky since it’s not technically Akron, but Route 8 is known for one direction, and the Akron sign gives us a warm feeling during some of Llewyn’s most trying times. In addition to Rubber City ties and stellar acting, the film is boosted by the best soundtrack and musical score of 2013.
An whimsical middle-aged man and an imaginary bunny rabbit whose dreamy vacation spot is in Northeast Ohio, is at the center of this black-and-white classic. Due to his insistence that he has an invisible “six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall” rabbit for a best friend, Elwood Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) is thought by his family to be insane, but unexplainable developments leave his loved ones in question as to whether he knows something they don’t. “Harvey” is a timeless classic, and a lot of that centers around Stewart’s effortless comedy. It would be great alone for a film of this magnitude to mention Akron, but it’s made even more important when we find out that this fictional rabbit lives in the real-life city. After 30 years in this city, I’ve never seen any six-foot tall rabbits, but I have seen this beautiful place win a lot of praise. No surprise to me it’s depicted as such a paradise in the film.
Fun fact: The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who penned the original “Harvey” and later adapted it for the screen was named Mary Chase, but she was born, in Denver, Mary Agnes McDonough Coyle. Yup, Mary Coyle, just like the Highland Square ice creamery. Coincidence? I have no clue. – Chris H.