The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979)

Rated PG

Starring: Julius “Dr. J” Erving, James Bond III, Margaret Avery and Stockard Channing

Rated: PG Comedy/Sport/Fantasy

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh centers upon the struggles of a basketball team, the Pittsburgh Pythons.  They are owned by the Tilson Brothers, H.S. and Harvey (both roles played by Johnathan Winters), who are at odds about the team’s future because the Pythons have been on a tremendous losing streak.

Part of the losing streak is due to the lack of strong players and the other part is due to the extreme selfishness of its star player, Moses Guthrie (Julius “Dr. J” Erving).  Extremely arrogant, Guthrie is far from being a team player, which is exactly what is needed in order for the Pythons to improve.

Seeking a way that the team could reverse its failings, ball boy Tyrone Milliman (James Bond III) believes that astrology could help.  However, few, including Moses and Toby (Margaret Avery), Tyrone’s sister, are willing to believe in the theory of Tyrone.  The primary reason for their doubt is because he, as a fourteen-year old, is very naïve to the struggles of adult realities.

Learning that the astrological sign of Guthrie is Pisces, Tyrone consults an astrologer, Mona Mondieu (Stockard Channing).  They devise a plan that the entire team should be composed of players whose zodiac sign is Pisces. 

After an open tryout of potential players, the final compilation of team members is so diverse that it becomes questionable if this re-vamped team, the “Pittsburgh Pisces”, can really be successful.  As the Pisces begin to turn things around for the better, the plans of the scheming Harvey Tilson are in play to sell the team, even if it means sabotaging the attempts of Tyrone, Moses and Mona to become winners. 

Will “fish fever” lead the Pisces to become true champions?  Be careful in viewing to find out the conclusion because the fever, as per its promotions, “has no cure”!

Boasting in its advertisements that the film is an “astrological, disco, sports extravaganza”, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh has become a cult classic.  Rendering it as such are the cast, the music and storyline.  The Gilbert Woods-directed motion picture features Dr. J, at the height of his NBA career, as well as other professional basketball players such as Meadowlark Lemon, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood and Norm Nixon (who would marry Debbi Allen, one of the dancing fans of the basketball team).  The dancing, led by Ola (Allen) and Brandy, (DeeDee Bridgewater; she later married Woods), is funky and smooth for its era.  The costumery is dazzling, both glitzy and vibrant.  The creativity, from the use of astrology as a technique to gain a successful relationship to the players entering the stadium in a hot air balloon, were over the top.  Rounding out the fun of the film are comedians Winters and Flip Wilson, who stars as the coach Jock Delaney.

The soundtrack of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh did well too, as it featured The Spinners, who would cameo in the film as Deacon Smith and Singers, who sang at the church of Reverend Grady Jackson (Lemon).  The family band, The Sylvers, starred as themselves, singing the track, “Might, Mighty Pisces”.  Perhaps what was most exciting about their performance was, playing on the theme of “fish fever”, their surprise entry from a large-than-life size “box” of Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.  The soundtrack also included music by the Thom Bell Orchestra, Frankie Bleu, Loretta Lynn and Phyllis Hyman.

While some may believe that the film is dated or lacking, it is the overall spirit of the film that makes it so beloved by its fans.  In fact, at the film’s website, Allen wrote an article, “Top Ten Reasons Why The Fish That Save Pittsburgh is the Greatest Basketball Movie Ever”.  Including the aforementioned factors, as well as teamwork, optimism and fun, he makes a great presentation of his reasons.  Similar to its plot, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh contains “all the special and essential elements to make it a winner!”