Toward the tail end of what would later become described as the black exploitation era of cinema history, a film emerged that dared to be different. Released in 1979, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is the story of a fledgling professional basketball team that struggles with a severe loosing streak, inept coaching, and disgruntled players. Until their franchise star, Moses Guthrie (Julius "Dr. J" Ervin) and their prodigious 14 year old towel boy, Tyrone (James Bond III) unhatch a plan to use astrology to turn the team around. They surround their Pisces star player with a motley crew of teammates who have one thing in common; they are all Pisces! Under the guidance of astrological consultant, Mona Mondieu (Stockard Channing), the team becomes a winning powerhouse and an overnight sensation. They soon change their name from "The Pittsburgh Pythons" to "The Pittsburgh Pisces". But what happens when the stars are not aligned in their favor when it comes time to win the big one? Can they prove that they are true champions or just a flash in the pan as the naysayers suggest? Rent it tonight to find out- if you can find it!
While The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is remembered fondly by many of us who are old enough to recall the film, it has not been widely celebrated as a "classic" like some of it's contemporaries. It was hugely popular at the time of its release. While astrology is a timeless art that has been embraced by many for thousands of years, it enjoyed a particular upswing in popularity during the 70s. This element coupled with the fact that the NBA's most charming and talented player of the era, Dr. J, was the star, was enough to create a strong interest in the movie.
It makes several attempts at comedic moments. The most memorable of which are provided by a couple of brief cameos by Debbie Allen, as a young yet uninhibited super fan. If you check out the end credits, you'll find that the multi talented Ms.Allen also did the choreography for the film under the name Debra. For his part, Dr.J proves that like many would be athlete actors, his talents are best displayed on the court. There are many exciting basketball sequences that allow him to adequately display his brilliance on the hardwood.
Another real life athlete, who provides an entertaining display of skill and prowess for the Pittsburgh Pisces, is legendary Harlem Globetrotters star, Meadowlark Lemon as Rev. Jackson, the bible toting slam-dunking preacher/hoop star. The real stand out of this film is the young James Bond III as Tyrone. He is convincing as a charming kid who endears himself to the team enough for them to trust in his guidance. In an early performance, veteran actress Margret Avery plays Tyrone's older, very protective sister. Her portrayal is solid despite her character being somewhat under developed.
The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is a fun film about a Cinderella team that struggles to go all the way. It is worth a look, especially if you like basketball and especially if you are a Pisces. While some of the astrological content is vague at times, you will appreciate how your birthing is celebrated. The film also boasts a catchy, soulful soundtrack that includes the likes of Phyllis Hymen, The Four Tops, and The Spinners to name a few. The film is obscure enough to offer a bit of a challenge to find on video. For those in the New York City area, if you don't mind a trip up to Harlem, you can find one copy at The Video Box on 145th and Amsterdam. Good Luck!