The Boy in Blue (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Boy in Blue is theoretically a historical film about the life of the great Canadian sculler Ned Hanlon, who dominated world competition in the late 1870s and early 1880s, and who was honored by a postage stamp. More precisely, this film is to Ned Hanlan's life what "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is to the lives of those famous outlaws, which is to say the resemblance stops at the character's name and a few general facts.

I can sum up my thoughts in three brief sentences.

1. A very good movie could be made about the life of Ned Hanlan

2.  This is not a very good movie.

3.  At any rate, good or not, this movie has very little to do with the life of Ned Hanlan

The rest of the review is just going to elaborate on those points.

As the story is told here, Ned was a championship bootlegger who developed his rowing skills by getting away from the coppers. It plays out like Thunder Road on water. Some colorful characters discovered Ned and turned him pro in order to make their own fortunes in what was essentially a crooked professional sport. Throughout his career, Ned continued to be a naive small-town boy at heart, to refuse to throw races, and to demonstrate excellent sportsmanship despite being constantly taunted by the uppity college-educated snobs who comprised his competition. He was always the underdog. Ned was played by a tall, clean-shaven, muscular Nic Cage (who was in magnificent shape.)

Yeah, right.

In reality, Ned was a tiny guy, 5'8", 155, but nonetheless a mustachioed roughneck who competed in a rough world of gamblers and swindlers. He took a lot of guff from his competitors, but he gave back more than he took. He was not humble or naive by any stretch of the imagination, and he was never an underdog except maybe in his first race in the USA. He was, in fact, far better than his competitors, and once won 200 races in a row. He was not only good, but also cocky about his superiority. He toyed with his opponents, often humiliating them intentionally to please the crowds. When he raced against Trickett, the Aussie who had been the World Champion,

"Hanlan played with Trickett during the race and then crossed the finish with almost a minute and a half lead. To add insult to injury, Hanlan turned his boat around and rowed down to Trickett, still on the racecourse, turned around again and beat him back to the finish a second time."

In other races, he would finish by discarding one oar and using the other on alternating sides, like a canoe. Imagine Lance Armstrong finishing the Tour de France by carrying his bicycle on this shoulders and giving the razzberry to the French riders. That's the modern day equivalent of Hanlan. This guy made Mohammad Ali seem as modest as Audrey Hepburn. In fact, Hanlan was so famous for his obnoxious hot-dogging against badly beaten opponents that Australian Elias Laycock insisted that clauses in their contract be included that forbade Hanlan from mocking him in the race, or embarrassing him in any other way. Read many more great Hanlan yarns on this excellent page, which is specifically dedicated to professional rowing in the 19th century, and which is also the source of the quotation above.

Oh, yeah, remember that bootlegging thing?

Wrong. The real story is much better. Ned's dad ran a hotel on Toronto Island, and there was no school on the island, so Ned had to row to school every day from the time he was in kindergarten. He had been written up in the Toronto Colonist when he was only five years old, and  had won the Ontario provincial championship three times before his trip to Philadelphia. The film's version is nothing like that.

The film's rendering of the story takes a couple of historical characters (like Ned's business manager, Colonel Shaw), and a few of Ned's more colorful anecdotes in which he was not a complete ass, and jumbles them together in nearly random fashion, often taking facts about one race or one person and using them elsewhere. If you did not know the actors and I told you that this movie was made in 1956 you would never doubt it for a minute. It is a classic mid-fifties Hollywood biopic - silly, inaccurate, and corny. If it really were a 1956 movie, 'twould be bad enough, but it is a Canadian film made in 1986, and these filmmakers really should have known better. It was directed by Charles Jarrott, whose most famous film is the respected Anne of 1000 Days. Jarrott did not do an especially good job on The Boy in Blue. The sports scenes are quite ineffectively edited, and lacking in continuity, to the point where some of the racing footage appears to be out of sequence.  

Read the stories at the link above, and I am certain you will agree with me that Hanlan's story would make a fantastic movie. Unfortunately, this is not it, and is not even Hanlan's story. It's basically a Hollywood formula picture with a sitcom flavor, and cannot be considered historical or biographical at all. It's essentially a grade-B attempt to invoke the spirit of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

... And yet, though it is old-fashioned and trite, and has little relationship to Hanlan's story ... I honestly can't deny that it is actually kind of an easy watch, and a very young Cage does a good job in the lead.



  • No features except the original trailer ...
  • ... but there is a full screen version as well as a widescreen anamorphic .


Melody Anderson shows her nipples and the top half of her breasts in a comical sex scene.

Cynthia Dale shows her breasts in a pre-sex scene, and her bum in the "morning after" scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • There are no major reviews online.

The People Vote ...

  • The budget was 7.7 million Canadian dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a low C-. It's basically a Hollywood formula picture with a sitcom flavor, and cannot be considered historical or biographical. It's essentially a grade-B imitation of the spirit of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is old-fashioned and trite, and has little relationship to Hanlan's story, so I'm inclined to score it lower, but I honestly can't. I just can't deny that it is actually kind of an easy watch, with some nice photography and a very young Cage doing a good job in the lead.

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