Lifeguard (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You see the title, you read the premise, and you think, "I get it - it's a 90 minute episode of Baywatch with Sam Elliott playing the part of David Hasselhoff."

There is some truth to that because Sam, like Hasselhoff's familiar character, is too old to be a lifeguard, so he faces the fact that the younger guys swim faster, and the more important fact that the younger guys will soon finish their degrees and give up lifeguarding for adult life, but ol' Sam's about to go to his 15th high school reunion and tell people he's "only a lifeguard." One of his high school chums offers to get him a job selling Porsches, so Sam must choose whether to leave the beach. That is the film's entire dramatic conflict, there is no humor to speak of, and the action in the film mostly consists of isolated, picaresque adventures that the lifeguards have in the course of duty, ranging from macho men who don't want to be rescued from drowning, to young lifeguard groupies, to perverts exposing themselves on the beach. All that is left is characterization and musical "life on the beach at sunset" montages.

The character study is reasonably interesting in that the main character's life is developed in great depth, and he ultimately has to choose whether to pursue the money he could make in mainstream society, or to stick with something he really loves with poetic intensity and which gives him a constant sense of accomplishment and worth. In other words, he has to choose between what he wants to do and what others want him to do. Ultimately, he finds a woman who encourages him to be himself, and he decides to be a lifeguard "as long as I can." While he never makes a decision about planning for his future, he does come to the conclusion that not making a decision is an OK decision in itself. Unfortunately, without the good natured self-deprecating humor of Hasselhoff, this film comes off as oh-too-serious and philosophical for the subject matter. It's Baywatch all right, as directed by Louis Malle.

Where the film generates some interest, at least for me, is as a time capsule of the attitudes of the 70s. For example, although it is a PG movie (the PG-13 rating would not be created until 1984), it is rife with nudity, and the lifeguard is carrying on simultaneous affairs with a divorcee and a seventeen year old girl! When the lifeguards see some 12 year old boys removing women's bathing suits, they simply focus their binoculars a bit better and have a good laugh. Our moral guardians were a bit more lax in those days, as was the MPAA itself. Bizarrely enough, that same 1970s MPAA would slap an R-rating on Woody Allen's masterpiece Manhattan although that film centered around an older man sleeping with a seventeen year old without the nudity. I guess if the ol' Woodman would have shown us some flesh, they would have let him skate home with a PG.

Whatever weaknesses Lifeguard may have had did not prevent Sam Elliott from delivering a cool, unpretentiously sensitive, handsome, bronzed and muscular performance that, while it never made him an A-list star, did establish him as a guy with a very special screen presence, and allowed him to establish a long career as the tough, laconic, no-bullshit sidekick in war films and Westerns.



  • No features
  • The widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9)



  • Sharon Clark shows everything in various sex and bath scenes.

  • Anne Archer shows a nipple in a sex scene.

  • Louise Golding loses her top on the beach.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

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.

My 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. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. 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. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. 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-.

Based on this description, it's a C, a pretty cool little existential character study which drifts, just like its main character. It seems like an episode of Baywatch directed by Louis Malle.

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