Baseball, for us Europeans, is certainly a complicated game, but full of charm. We rarely see matches on TV or, least of all, at the stadium, but films, serials, and comics have accustomed us to appreciate the tension that holds up the challenge between pitcher and hitter, to laugh at the curious and imaginative signals that are thrown from the bench. to the players, to enjoy the fantastic home runs and reverse games with a spectacular play.
Indeed, Hollywood cinema has often and willingly told the rest of the world about the passion that Americans have for this sport, portraying the feats of both great champions of the past and players of minor leagues, passing through youth baseball, even today. the most popular sport among American kids despite the growth of football. But what are the best films on the subject? We have selected five; among the excellent excluded, who placed immediately out of the five, we point out the Man of Dreams with Kevin Costner, Eight men with John Cusack and Charlie Sheen and The art of winning with Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robin Wright.
The idol of crowds
The life and drama of Lou Gehrig
The golden age of baseball in America was probably the one between the two wars: they were years of stadiums that were always full, of fans attached to the radios to hear match reports, of great myths like Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. And one of these myths was Lou Gehrig, who today in Italy is perhaps known not so much for having been one of the greatest baseball players of all times, as for having given his name to a lethal disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS or, indeed, Gehrig’s disease.
Gehrig played in the Major League for 17 seasons, always with the New York Yankees jersey, between 1923 and 1939; in those years he played all the games available, 2,130 in a row, setting a record that would remain unbeaten until 1995. Nicknamed “Iron Horse” due to his batting power and incredible endurance, he won the World Series six times in a period of great satisfaction for the Yankees, but in 1939 he was diagnosed with the disease and had to retire. His farewell speech at Yankee Stadium became memorable: «Fans – he began -, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from your fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career di Lui just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky ».
Disappeared in 1941, just two years after his retirement, Gehrig was immediately portrayed in a film directed by Sam Wood – a director with a solid career behind him ranging from drama to farce (especially with the Marx brothers ) – and played by Gary Cooper, with also a small part for Babe Ruth and other Yankees teammates: the film, which focuses more on Gehrig’s life than on his sporting achievements, was intended to be a tribute to the figure of an honest and loyal sportsman, whose death had rocked the whole country. Here too, the farewell speech is memorable, so much so that the joke “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” was nominated by the American Film Institute as the 38th most emblematic in history of cinema.
It Beats the Drum Slowly
Robert De Niro and the Link Between a Pitcher and His Catcher
Roger Ebert – certainly the most famous and influential among American film critics – called it “the definitive baseball film”, and perhaps he was not wrong: Beat the drum slowly, from 1973, is perhaps a little-known and almost certainly forgotten here, but it has the advantage of showing off all the best qualities of baseball, starting also in this case from a dramatic story linked to death.
The protagonists of the film are in fact two players of the fictional team of the New York Mammoths: the pitcher Henry Wiggen, the star of the team, and the receiver Bruce Pearson, a player of little talent and intellect. The two are friends, with the first who is negotiating a new, more profitable agreement with the club and the second who instead risks being cut and ending up playing in the minor leagues; Suddenly, everything changes when Bruce discovers he is terminally ill and only communicates it to his pitcher, who takes his fate to heart and decides to sign a new contract in which he gives up a lot of money while ensuring that the receiver is not cut. . Within some time, however, the news of Bruce’s illness spreads within the team,
Based on a novel written in the 1950s by Mark Harris and already brought to TV in 1956 by a group of very young actors including Paul Newman and George Peppard, the film was directed by newcomer John D. Hancock and featured, in the role by Bruce, the then little-known Robert De Niro, who thanks to this interpretation and to that in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, released a few months later, proposed himself as the rising star of Hollywood.
What a Blow if You Meet the “Bears”
Walter Matthau’s Terrible Kids
After two dramas in which baseball is confronted with death, we move on to a decidedly lighter film, Che botte se rende gli “Orsi”, a 1976 film that had good success and which over the years has given rise to two sequels ( Bears Stop Training and Bears Go to Japan ), a TV series ( Gang of Bears ) and a 2005 remake, Bad News Bears, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Greg Kinnear.
The film is about a former baseball player, drunkard Morris Buttermaker, who is persuaded by a city councilor to coach a team of discarded kids from all traditional clubs, the “Bears”, entered in the Little League tournament. The kids – both those who make up the original team and those who are hired over the course of the season by Buttermaker – are initially something unwatchable: the pitcher is short-sighted and the catcher is overweight, as well as Mexican kids who don’t understand English. , very shy players and others overly passionate about statistics. In any case, with his gruff ways, Buttermaker manages to shape the team and lead it to the final against the Yankees, a team with a coach and particularly obsessive and tough parent fans. The game ends with the victory of the latter, but the Bears are close to the feat; Buttermaker even makes his kids celebrate with beer and, during the award ceremony, the children will not fail to take revenge on the snooty opponents.
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The film has its strong point, as well as in the exaltation of baseball as a passion, also in the interpretation of the actors: the absolute star is Walter Matthau, to whom the character of Buttermaker seems sewn-on; but among the kids, there is also the star of little Tatum O’Neal, at the time in her second film after the exploit with which, three years earlier, she had even won an Oscar and two Golden Globes for Paper Moon.
Robert Redford and the Myth of Success
If you want a film that tells you about the sacrifices behind a career in baseball, the glory, the defeat and the difficulties not only of a game, surely you have to recover The best, beautiful film of 1984 directed by Barry Levinson (also famous for blockbusters such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man and Revelations ) and starring a first-rate cast of Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, and Kim Basinger.
The story is that, invented, by Roy Hobbs, a player who has a natural talent for baseball and who, after the sudden death of his father, decides, not yet twenty, to leave for Chicago to audition for the Cubs, a prestigious city team. During the trip, however, he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a sort of serial killer of the young hopes of the sport who hurts him and undermines his career opportunities. The film then jumps forward by about fifteen years and shows us again Hobbs who, after a mediocre career in the minor leagues, finally has the possibility – this time the last – to play among the greats: his talent will emerge after a thousand. vicissitudes and, to try to get to the title,
The film, once again based on a novel – written by the talented Jewish writer Bernard Malamud in 1952 – which was also published in Italy, won four Oscar nominations and was an economic success, among other things the first of the TriStar, founded in that same year thanks to an agreement between Columbia, HBO, and CBS.
Bull Durham – A three-handed game
When the Director Comes From the Minor Leagues
We conclude with a comedy that is at the same time one of the funniest sports films ever produced by American cinema but also an in-depth examination of the mechanisms that govern the minor leagues – professional but far from the salaries of MLB – of American baseball. The film we are talking about is Bull Durham – A Three-Hand Game, produced in 1988 by Orion Pictures after being rejected by virtually every production company because “the time of baseball movies was passed” and capable of grossing more than $ 50 million in the United States alone against a budget of 9.
The story is that of Crash Davis, an experienced catcher who is hired by the Durham Bulls to act like a hen to a young and talented pitcher, Ebby LaLoosh, with an arm as formidable as it is unregulated and inexperienced. The relationship between the two is not the easiest, both because the latter is not always available to be guided, and because a teacher, Annie Savoy, devoted to the game of baseball, gets in the way – so much so that she elected him as her own personal religion – and determined to wean the young pitcher both culturally and sexually. When, after a lot of work, LaLoosh is hired in the Major League, the Bulls will end up releasing Crash; he will find a final signing in another team that will give him the opportunity to beat the home run record career for the Minor Leagues before returning to Durham and starting a new life with Annie.
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The film was written and directed by Ron Shelton, himself a former professional baseball player who used as sources of inspiration various stories he had gleaned during his career in the Major and Minor Leagues and in particular the mythical figure of Steve Dalkowski, perhaps the greatest pitcher ever to hit the fields of minor baseball; his screenplay and direction were so incisive that after that success he was able to build a solid career in Hollywood, marked by other sports films – such as Who doesn’t jump white is, about basketball, or Tin Cup – and not ( Hollywood Homicide). Part of the credit for the success, however, is also to be attributed to the close-knit trio of protagonists: Tim Robbins was here at his first important performance; Susan Sarandon, who would have started a long romantic relationship with Robbins, earned a Golden Globe nomination; Finally, Kevin Costner was chosen for his natural athleticism (during the shooting he scored several home runs without the need for stunts) and would become an idol of baseball fans, confirming his passion also with the next The Man of Dreams.
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