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Film / The Paper Chase

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The 1973 Film of the Book by John Jay Osborn, adapted and directed by James Bridges.

A first-year student at Harvard Law School, James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) struggles to balance his course load and a covert romance with the daughter (Lindsay Wagner) of his most rigorous professor (John Houseman).

There was also a TV series from 1978-79 (CBS) and 1983-86 (Showtime). Houseman reprised his role, while Hart was played by James Stephens.


The Paper Chase features examples of:

  • Blessed With Suck: Kevin has a photographic memory, which is absolutely useless for analyzing matters of law.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: "You... are a son of a bitch, Kingsfield!"
  • Character Tic: If Hart is particularly pleased with himself and there's a wood surface within reach, he knocks on it twice.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Fanservice: Two group shower scenes, one solo shower scene, and a handful of scenes featuring a Speedo-clad Hart at the pool or beach.
  • Freudian Trio: A short but blatant moment that overlaps with the Shoulder Devil/Shoulder Angel trope. A little after the 26-minute mark, Hart is in a communal shower, standing in the middle of two students. The student on his right warns him against his new relationship, advocating chastity; the student on his left warns him against chastity, advocating that "you grab onto her boobs and you don't let go."
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  • Improbably High I.Q.: Ford casually tries to impress Hart by citing his IQ of 190. He fails, because Hart's genius undergrad roommate couldn't pass the LSAT.
  • Insult Backfire: Hart, facing expulsion and feeling he has nothing more to lose from directly insulting Professor Kingsfield, calls him a son of a bitch to his face. Kingsfield, however, takes it as a sign that Hart may have a chance yet.
  • Last-Name Basis: Hart's first name is only uttered once. Many of the other students also refer to each other by their last names.
  • Ranked by I.Q.: When James Hart first meets him, Franklin Ford III boasts of having an I.Q. of 190 as a sign of his superiority.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Hart idolizes Professor Kingsfield, who doesn't even admit to recognizing him at the end of the school year.

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