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The Paper Chase — The Law School Movie Without Reese Witherspoon — Turns 40

In 1973, Hollywood released The Paper Chase upon the unsuspecting prospective law students of the world to dramatize the Socratic method, 100-page outlines, and the most back-biting study group in the world.

The Paper Chase forms one leg of the triumvirate of media forces designed to scare prospective law students, together with Scott Turow’s One L (affiliate link) and everything Elie’s ever written about school.

As the film turns 40 this year (it was released in October 1973), Bloomberg Law compiled a list of the 9 Things You Don’t Know About The Paper Chase.

Sounds to me like Bloomberg is issuing a trivia challenge. Did you already know these fun facts about the dullest law movie ever?

The piece is posted as a video. I will embed it here, but since many of you aren’t free to watch video at the office, I’ll provide commentary on each point in turn. Either follow along, or go back to watch the video later:

Fact You Don’t Know 1: John Jay Osborn Jr. Wrote the novel while still in law school.

This is a hit, because I did not know this fact. The book was published the year Osborn graduated, proving that 3L year was just as much of a useless blow-off year then as it is now. How about a few other facts about the author you may not know? Well, his name is no accident, he’s a descendant of John Jay as well as Cornelius Vanderbilt. It’s good to see a nice rags-to-riches story like Osborn’s.

In addition to writing, he became a law professor himself, teaching at the University of Miami, Cardozo, and The University of San Francisco. I’m assuming he was a total prick with the Socratic method.

He also wrote a short-lived sitcom about young lawyers starring Martin Short. Here’s the opening title sequence:

The theme song is literally:

You’re young, you got money,
You should be feelin’ fine.
But somethin’s not quite working
And it’s messing up your mind.

Sounds like Osborn may have had a better handle on Biglaw than even law school.

Fact You Don’t Know 2: The director originally wanted James Mason instead of John Houseman.

Another fact I did not know. I’m not sure I can envision James Mason as a menacing professor. Once an actor plays a bumbling pedophile, it’s hard to get back to imperious.

Just for LOLs, here’s Jon Hamm pretending to be James Mason:

Fact You Don’t Know 3: This was John Houseman’s first major screen role — and he won an Oscar for it.

I actually did know this. While it may have been his first big screen role, John Houseman was no neophyte. Houseman was the professional partner of Orson Welles, collaborating first on stage, and then in Hollywood, where Houseman played no small role in the production of Citizen Kane.

The Bloomberg piece notes that Houseman is best known for his Smith Barney commercials in the 80s. Those were a big deal. But where’s the love for playing Grandpa Stratton on Silver Spoons?

Fact You Don’t Know 4: The exteriors were filmed at HLS, while the interiors were filmed in Toronto.

Toronto? Foreigners?

Fact You Don’t Know 5: Timothy Bottoms played George W. Bush in three different productions.

I did know this, because Trey Parker and Matt Stone did amazing work on That’s My Bush!

I guess Bottoms was typecast as a jerk-off student attending elite schools in the early 70s.

Fact You Don’t Know 6: Lindsay Wagner was also the Bionic Woman.

Indeed. Did you know John Houseman reunited with his film daughter on the Bionic Woman? It was part of an epic three-episode, two-series crossover story where Jaime Summers and Steve Austin had to work together to stop Houseman’s character from getting his hands on a weather control device. And if he got ahold of that device he could use it like the Socratic method of death — placing his finger on a random area of the globe and declaring, “Here be a Sharknado!”

Fact You Don’t Know 7: UChicago Law has a page on the Socratic method explaining that no one is like Professor Kingsfield.

So Chicago lies to people?

Fact You Don’t Know 8: Osborn always knew he’d end the story with Kingsfield asking Hart’s name

Interesting, because I’d always thought he’d toyed with having all the characters completely inexplicably waking up in a church representing purgatory. I’m glad he didn’t because that would be the dumbest ending ever.

Fact You Don’t Know 9: Kingsfield’s famous speech was parodied on Mr. Show

It absolutely was, and parodied by Bob Odenkirk, now a famous fictional lawyer in his own right, appearing on New Republic covers and all.

“When you’re done with law school, your brain will be like a steel trap, with the bloody foot of law inside it.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

9 Things You Don’t Know About The Paper Chase [Bloomberg Law via YouTube]

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