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The Basket


The Basket

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A blandly wholesome and well-intentioned family melodrama about tolerance and moral integrity during wartime, The Basket frames its pandering virtues against the magic-hour backdrop of rural Washington, suggesting Days Of Heaven as seen on PBS's The Joy Of Painting. Like so many other clumsy films aimed at young people, it doesn't trust their capacity for intuition or imagination; not even the simplest message can slip by without being hammered home for good measure. The hammering begins with the double-meaning title, which describes a German opera and the relatively new game of basketball, both introduced to a wheat-farming community by schoolteacher Peter Coyote. As WWI escalates in Europe, the locals grow more suspicious of outsiders, cruelly ostracizing a pair of orphaned German immigrants (Robert Karl Burke and Amber Willenborg) who lost their parents to American soldiers. Though controversial at first, Coyote's interrelated lessons on the opera and basketball spark the town's imagination and lead to a greater sense of understanding and tolerance. Deep-seated ethnic tensions are resolved in a Hoosiers-esque contest between the scrappy novices and the undefeated Spokane Spartans, with a grand prize just large enough to cover the down payment on a harvester. Mounted with the scrupulous period detail of a Cracker Barrel lobby, The Basket lays down its plot devices early—a special pendant left behind by the German girl's mother, a broken-down tractor, a boy given to precisely cued epileptic fits—and runs through them like a checklist. There's nothing in The Basket that offends, but even for family entertainment, that's a pretty low standard.