Bill Murray Movie Drives Suit Over Race-Track Roar

Alleging infringement of his trademarked phrase, Dave Johnson included this image in his March 20 lawsuit against the makers of the 2014 film “St. Vincent.”

MANHATTAN (CN) – “And down the stretch they come!” It’s a phrase that calls to mind galloping hooves and crumpled vouchers. But is it enough to sustain a copyright?

Arguing just that, longtime Triple Crown race announcer Dave Johnson brought a federal complaint for damages Wednesday against the makers of the 2014 film “St. Vincent.”

Starring as the titular Vincent, Bill Murray utters the famous phrase over an hour into the running time as his character races down a hospital hallway in wheelchairs with his child sidekick, Oliver, played by Jaeden Liebene.

Johnson says he registered the trademark for the phrase in December 2012, and his attorney, Andrew Mollica, sent cease-and-desist letters this past January to the production studios.

The letters expressed a willingness to negotiate a settlement, claiming that Johnson deserved “appropriate compensation and corrections.”

Though Murray is not a party to the lawsuit, Johnson takes personal offense to the portrayal of the Vincent character, a retired Vietnam war veteran, as a boozy grouch.

“This unsavory character also reflects the dark side of horse racing and his misappropriation and utterance of the phrase ‘And down the stretch they come,’ infringes, damages, blurs, tarnishes, and dilutes the mark and the rights and reputation of the mark’s creator and owner, Dave Johnson — an esteemed and accomplished gentleman who is a universally respected legend in sports broadcasting and entertainment,” the complaint states.

Johnson says his catch phase “captured, and continues to capture, the attention of millions of fans and puts the fans in a frenzy as it signals the arrival of the dramatic final stages of the race.”

The Manhattan-based sportscaster first used the phrase in the 1960s, when he announced harness and thoroughbred-horse races in Fairmount Park Race Track in Collinsville, Illinois.

“Over time, being a professional, perfectionist, and artist, Dave Johnson worked on his inflection, tone, and volume and ultimately perfected his distinctive and famous signature phrase,” the complaint states.

Production companies named as defendants include the Chernin Group, Crescendo Productions, Goldenlight Films, PC Films, The Weinstein Co., and Lantern Capital Partners LP.

Johnson is one of many famous sports broadcasters to trademark an iconic phrase. College basketball sportscaster Dick Vitale has a trademark for his exclamation “Awesome, Baby”; boxing announcer Michael Buffer has a trademark for the line “Let’s get ready to rumble”; and the legendary Chicago Cubs radio man Harry Caray had four trademarks for his signature exclamation “Holy Cow!”

Representatives for Chernin Entertainment declined to offer any statement on the lawsuit.

Representatives for the Weinstein Company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“St. Vincent”  grossed $54.8 million worldwide.

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