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Balls Bluff (1961)

| Fantasy, Short
During a Civil War battle, a soldier is transported through time, landing in New York City's Central Park in the year 1961. He then explores Manhattan and goes to Yankee Stadium in an ... See full summary »


Robert Downey Sr.


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Credited cast:
Robert Downey Sr.


During a Civil War battle, a soldier is transported through time, landing in New York City's Central Park in the year 1961. He then explores Manhattan and goes to Yankee Stadium in an attempt to locate other Civil War soldiers. Written by Bhob Stewart <bhob2@earthlink.net>

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Edited into No More Excuses (1968) See more »

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No Balls, no Bluff: this film is lost.

"Balls Bluff" is a low-budget, amateur short film that merits a small footnote in film history as the first movie written and directed by Robert Downey, Senior. No prints of this movie are known to exist.

I have often maintained that no movie should be considered 'lost' unless it was deliberately destroyed. Many, many films that were officially 'lost forever' have been rediscovered by diligent searchers. In fact, just last week (as I write this), BBC World Service announced the discovery of a complete print of 'Beyond the Rocks', a silent film directed by the very underrated Sam Wood (apparently not one of his best efforts, but any Sam Wood movie is worthy of attention). So, 'Balls Bluff' may yet turn up.

But this seems unlikely. When a lost film is rediscovered, it's usually because at least one release print was never returned to the distributor, and the errant print is found in a private collection or archive. 'Balls Bluff' was never released or distributed in the first place, so it's highly unlikely that a print will turn up in a forgotten projection booth.

I have not seen 'Balls Bluff', which probably no longer exists. My review of this film is based on information given to me by two friends of mine: Fred von Bernewitz (who edited 'Balls Bluff' but no longer owns a print) and the late Art d'Lugoff, an impresario who once screened 'Balls Bluff' in his jazz club in Greenwich Village, NYC. Fred von Bernewitz originally distinguished himself in the 1950s as the compiler of a checklist of art and articles in 'Mad' magazine. At the time that I write this, Fred von Bernewitz now has a very respectable career as an audio editor.

'Balls Bluff' is unofficially based on 'An End to Bugling', a novel by Edmund G Love, who is better known for writing the book that became the Broadway musical 'Subways Are for Sleeping'. EG Love was a journalist who, as a publicity stunt, once ate his way through 5,000 New York City restaurants ... in alphabetical order of the restaurants' names! 'An End to Bugling' is his novel about a Confederate Army regiment at the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 who, due to a glitch in Heaven, are sent forward in time to Gettysburg, PA exactly one century later. (This novel was still being written by EG Love at the time when Downey borrowed its premise for 'Balls Bluff'.)

'Balls Bluff' is the story of one Union Army soldier (played by director/scripter Downey) who abruptly finds himself snatched from a Civil War battlefield in 1861 and catapulted 100 years into the future, to Central Park in New York City. Of course, he sees cars and other strange objects. He sees a newspaper headline about Vice President Johnson and he assumes this refers to Andrew Johnson, not Lyndon. He tells a modern onlooker that he's "a Union man", and of course this is misinterpreted as a reference to trade unions. Eventually, the soldier learns that the Yankees (baseball team) are in the Bronx today, so he heads north (geddit?) to rejoin his regiment. Get it? Yankees? Union Army? Civil War? Bring the jubilee...

As 'Balls Bluff' was a very short film, made on a negligible budget, it was probably intended as Downey's 'demo' film to get him professional assignments ... and on that level, it certainly succeeded, as Downey went on to a very notable career. By all accounts, 'Balls Bluff' wasn't very clever or funny, but (with its short running time and shorter budget) it didn't really have a chance to do those things. As I've not actually seen 'Bulls Bluff', I shan't rate it.

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