Category Archives: Sports Movies

Snowball Express (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family rehabilitates rundown hotel.

Johnny (Dean Jones) works as an accountant in New York, but is bored with his job and looking for a way out. He finds his escape with an inheritance that he receives naming him the beneficiary of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Colorado that he’s promised can bring in $14,000 a month. He immediately quits his job and moves his reluctant family to the snowy Rockies where they find the hotel to be in bad shape, but Johnny is determined to still make a go of it and turns the place into a ski resort. At first they have some success with it, but calamity strikes, which destroys the place and forces Johnny to enter into a snow mobile race where he hopes to be the winner and use the earnings from the prize to rebuild the place.

There were aspects to the film that I liked. For one I felt Jones was quite engaging here. Usually his performances in some of his other Disney films were flat and one-dimensional, but here his resiliency had an emotional appeal. I also liked how even though the film is aimed for kids it still dealt with real-world adult issues like going to a bank to get a loan and then how to allocate that money to build equity. Even though children may be too young to grasp all of it, it’s still good to condition them into working world scenarios and what it takes to create a business from the ground up.

The story though lacks the physical comedy that is so prevalent in other Disney comedies. It does have a scene where Jones skis down a hill backwards while knocking over everyone else that is in his way, which is funny, but then the film repeats this same scenario two more times until it’s no longer funny and instead just boring. The scene where Harry Morgan’s character accidentally crashes his logging engine through the hotel is more depressing than funny since the family had spent so much time rebuilding it it was frustrating seeing it get destroyed for such a silly reason.

The climactic snowmobile race is okay and I liked seeing some of the wipeouts, which I wished there had been more of. However, having this really old guy played by Keenan Wynn beating out everyone else year after year as the snowmobile champion seemed weird. Granted he was actually only in his 50’s at the time it was filmed, but with his gray beard and hair he looked to be more in his 70’s, so it seemed a bit goofy why such an elderly guy, who was nothing more than a bank manager during the day, would have such an ability to always beat out everybody else.  Why the race required two men on each snowmobile didn’t make much sense either. I was born and raised in Minnesota and say a few snowmobile races in my time and they had only one person on each vehicle, so I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to have a second person behind the driver since they did nothing but  act like a spectator while holding for dear life as the driver cruised through the snow.

The film needed a more aggressive bad guy. Disney films from the 70’s were fun because the villains were usually so colorful, but here Keenan Wynn just sits behind his desk for most of the film and does nothing more than deny Jones a loan. It would’ve been better had Wynn instead sneaked around behind the scenes doing things that hurt Jones’ business, which would’ve created more of an antagonistic feeling from the viewer and thus made the final confrontation between the two, which gets underplayed anyways, more interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Dreamer (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bowling for a living.

Harold Nuttingham (Tim Matheson) who is nicknamed ‘Dreamer’ because of his lofty ambitions of becoming a big league bowler struggles with the demands of the sport and the amount of sacrifice and practice that it takes to be good along with the balancing act of having a relationship with Karen (Susan Blakely) and holding down a job. Eventually with the help of Harry (Jack Warden), who acts as his coach, he’s able to get accepted into a major tournament where he’ll take on the veteran champion Johnny Watkin (played by real-life champion bowler Dick Weber) and prove to a national audience that he truly deserves to be considered one of the best.

It’s truly hard-to-believe how a film like this could’ve been funded by a major studio, or how anyone would think a movie about bowling, a sport with no real cinematic quality to it at all, would be something that people would want to watch, or even take seriously. Sure, it replicates the same Rocky formula, which at the time was quite popular, but what’s next? A small town kid desiring to be the next great badminton champ? Ping Pong? Tiddlywinks?

There’s been other films made about bowling like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski, but those all had a sense of humor to it and some interesting camera shots, but this thing takes it all too seriously and is flatly photographed. Part of the charm of Rocky was seeing him train to become a good boxer, but this film glosses over the training/technique aspect and starts out right away with him already winning a bowling contest and receiving a big trophy, so what’s the point of seeing him receive one trophy after another? Besides the bowling alleys that he plays in all look blah and filled with the same unexciting people making it look like Dreamer really isn’t moving up, but instead perpetually stuck in the same drab small Midwestern town, or one’s just like it, that he came from.

The story needed of some sort of side-plot that could’ve created actual tension that is otherwise completely lacking. It may sound like a sport’s movie cliche, but Dreamer needed a psychological hurdle to overcome, like maybe he had a history of choking under pressure in big games, or possibly injuring his hand right before the contest, or maybe even losing his trusted bowling ball (or having it stolen) that would cast some doubt, and elicit some genuine intrigue from the viewer about whether Dreamer could pull through, but nothing like this ever gets presented.

Instead the majority of the drama centers around Dreamer’s on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend over benign issues that aren’t interesting and with a woman that looks way too beautiful to be wasting her life away working in some dumpy bowling alley, or going out with a bland stiff that doesn’t treat her right. There’s also a thread dealing with Harry and his inability to come to terms with not achieving as much as he could’ve during his younger years when he was a bowler on the circuit, but Harry is just a minor character, so his character history/arch isn’t compelling. It’s Dreamer’s that’s important, but his arch isn’t even apparent.

The film also has a cheesy scene featuring Harry bowling intensely all by himself in the dark after the place has already closed, which begs a really important question: If he’s bowling after everything’s been shut down, then who, or what is resetting the pins while he proceeds to continuously knock them down?

A bad guy, or jerk with the potential of throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings needed introducing, but nothing materializes and everybody is too chummy with no tantalizing element simmering beneath the surface. To some degree this is the film’s one successful quality as it accurately recreates just how slow, dull, and uneventful small town living can be while putting the poor viewer to sleep in the process.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Nosseck

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Skaterdater (1965)

A still photo from the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: From skateboards to girls.

Director Noel Black, who had just graduated from USC film school, wanted to put together a production reel that he could show to potential producers and studios and  after securing $17,000 for financial backing decided to make a short movie examining the then new craze of skateboarding. The story centers on some neighborhood skateboarders in Torrance, California who enjoy spending their summer afternoons skating around town. One day one of the boys (Michael Mel) spots a pretty girl (Melissa Mallory) and decides she’s more interesting than his friends, so he starts spending all of his time with her, which makes his other friends jealous and one of them (Gregg Carroll) challenges him to a skateboarding ‘duel’ along a steep, hillside street.

Despite the limited production values this still comes off as fresh and original and it’s officially the very first film ever made about skateboarding. In many ways not much has changed. The only real difference is that businesses back them did not have the sway to put up signs banning skaters from using their parking lots or sidewalks and one amusing segment shows the disgruntled look of local business owners having to put up with the distracting skateboarding noise outside although unfortunately director Black over-accentuates the noise for effect making the sound and ultimately the segment annoying to the viewer as well.

Some of the stuntwork though is impressive and the fact that there is no dialogue or names given to the characters is a benefit as it gives the thing a universal appeal knowing that this same type of scenario gets repeated all over the country from one generation to the next. The film was met with strong critical praise and has led to it getting preserved into the Academy Film Archive in 2010 as well as helping to boost director Black’s filmmaking career, which directly  led to him getting a chance to direct Pretty Poison, starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, which has since garnered a strong cult following.

As for the cast none of them became famous or found a career in front of the camera, but they’re all still alive and recently got together for a reunion with pics showing them as they were back then and how they look today :

L-R back row Bill McKig, Gary Jennings, Marshal Backlar, producer. L-R front row Michael Mel, Melissa Mosley and Bart Jahn all reunited 50 years after making the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.
Redondo Beach June 27, 2015.
(Photo by Brittany Murray / Daily Breeze)

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 11, 1965

Runtime: 17 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Noel Black

Studio: United Artists

Available: YouTube

Banning (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Golf pro seeks revenge.

Mike Banning (Robert Wagner) was at one time an up-and-coming golf star, but then his promising career came crashing down when he was accused of trying to rig a game by bribing his competitor. In reality it was his competitor Jonathan Linus (Guy Stockwell) who did the bribing and when Mike refused to go in on it Jonathan tabbed him for the crime. Now Mike has returned to the golf club that Jonathan and his rich wife Cynthia (Susan Clark) own. He demands to be given a job or he’ll tell the truth about what happened, but after securing a position at the club Mike then must deal with the mob who bankrolled his initial PGA run and now demand repayment, which forces Mike into the type of scheme that he had earlier avoided.

This is the type of film that could be deemed ‘dead-on-arrival’ as the characters  are so painfully cliched in the most soap opera-like extreme that it’s almost laughable, but strangely it’s still captivating. Most likely this is because we as regular people still get-off seeing the rich and powerful self-destruct by not only eating up each other, but many times themselves as well. Realizing that people with a lot of money don’t really ‘have-at-all’ and in many cases can be even more miserable is sort of satisfying and to that extent this movie succeeds admirable.

Unfortunately the sets are not as gaudy and over-the-top as they needed to be. When the characters are excessive the backdrop needs to match it and in this case it doesn’t. The golf club appears to be just some set piece created inside a studio and this visual sterility defeats the campiness by ultimately stymieing the melodrama into a formulaic programmer.

Wagner though is what really kills it by performing his role like he were sleepwalking. He shows no energy or nuance and simply goes around with this perpetual irritated look on his face and nothing more. How can a movie stimulate any interest when its lead has no panache? Even Jill St. John who Wagner later married in real-life buries him with her presence to the point that he doesn’t even seem worthy enough to share the same screen with her.

In support Howard St John (no relation to Jill) is fun as a conniving elderly rich tycoon who pretends to be drunk when he really isn’t as well as Anjanette Comer playing in a rare straight role. Her career has been marked with so many cult movie parts that seeing her play someone who is normal becomes genuinely diverting. Unfortunately Gene Hackman, who is miscast as an aging golf-pro even though he was in reality the same age as Wagner, gets wasted.

The climactic golf match manages to be surprisingly captivating and proves that the game can have a certain cinematic flair if done right, but some of the film’s other stabs at action don’t work so well. The car chase is a particular problem as it becomes painfully clear that Wagner really isn’t driving a vehicle, but simply sitting in front of a green screen instead, which pretty much helps to cements this as a dated relic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ron Winston

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time

Big Wednesday (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catch the big wave.

Based on a short story that was published in 1974 and titled ‘No Pants Mance’ the plot deals with three life-long friends who share a passion for surfing. Jack (William Katt) is the sensible one who grows into being a responsible adult while Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent) and Leroy (Gary Busey) remain more reckless. The film follows their journey through life between the years of 1962 and 1974 and how their ongoing friendship ebbs-and-flows.

It was written and directed by John Milius whose own youthful surfing days helped him connect to the material and it manages to work when it’s in the water, but nowhere else. Much of the problem comes from an ill-advised attempt to broaden the storyline into a sprawling life saga that gets much too overwrought.

The film also spends too much time on meandering sequences that have nothing to do with the story including a fight scene that occurs during a house party in Katt’s home that is no different from the hundreds of similar house party brawls shown in other movies. This one though is slightly more amusing in that the homeowner (Barbara Hale) remains in her bedroom reading a book even as things get progressively out-of-control. However, it seemed unrealistic that she wouldn’t at some point check-up on what was going on especially as the commotion increased. The segment, as unnecessary as it is, had a good engaging set-up, but unfortunately lacked a satisfying finishing shot like her reaction the next day when she took in all the damage, which could’ve been a gem.

The draft dodging scene where they pretend to be blind, gay, crazy, or handicapped to get out of going to war is also contrived. Too many other movies had already tackled this including Alice’s Restaurant, which had a similar army recruiting sequence that was far funnier and made this one look second-rate by comparison.

It’s also off-putting to having Katt as the lead during the first-half only to switch to Vincent taking-the-reins during the second part. For one thing Vincent is not likable and he even causes a serious car crash earlier in the film that should’ve gotten him thrown into jail, but doesn’t. At the beginning he’s portrayed as being a drunken slacker that somehow manages to morph into a responsible husband and father later. The movie implies that when he unexpectedly finds out that he is a  father this ‘changes’ him, but with a lot of guys that’s not always the case, so I felt there needed to be more of a motivation than just that.

The surfing segments are excellent particularly the gigantic waves captured during the film’s climax. Had the story remained on a surfing plotline it would’ve worked, but unfortunately Milius tries too hard to give the material a ‘profound statement’ that turns it into nothing more than strained, hackneyed drama that is quite slow and boring.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Milius

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Back to School (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodney goes to college.

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a successful businessman who runs a national chain of clothing stores despite having never attained a degree. Now his son Jason (Keith Gordon) is attending a university, but he feels like dropping out. Thornton though doesn’t want to let him, so he decides to attend college with him in order to inspire him to remain in school.

The film would’ve been far more interesting had Rodney been poor and struggling to better himself by finally going back to school, which is much more relatable since many adults do this all the time. Making him already wealthy saps the potential drama and reality right out of the story making it more like a game that he is playing with no real consequence. He doesn’t even take any of his studying seriously, so the idea that he is at least broadening his intellect fails here too. The side-story dealing with him being a world class diver is equally ridiculous as this out-of-shape, beer guzzling, 65-year-old man looks like someone who would barely be able to run half a block before dropping dead of a heart attack let alone achieving any sort of complex dive that no one else could do.

Casting Adrienne Barbeau as his shrewish wife was a mistake as she lacks comic ability making the barbs that she trades with him unfunny and what’s a young and beautiful woman doing married to a homely dope like Rodney anyways? Okay, so Rodney’s character here has money and that’s why she married him, but that plays completely against his stand-up persona where he portrayed himself as being this loser that got no respect. The wife should’ve been a female version of Rodney looks-wise while also a nag and thus heightening the stakes for the character to go back to school and succeed. Having him later fall in love with his beautiful English professor played by Sally Kellerman makes even less sense as the two had intellectually nothing in common.

Keith Gordon is boring as Rodney’s son and having the story go off on a tangent dealing with his romance with a pretty coed (Terry Farrell) is derivative and should’ve been avoided as the film is only amusing when Rodney is in it and dull otherwise. Gordon also looks nothing like Rodney and it’s confusing why exactly he’s not ‘fitting-in’. Casting some fat, bulging eyed guy to play a young version of Rodney would’ve been funnier while also making his social ostracism more understandable.

Burt Young’s character adds to the already weird quasi-surreal atmosphere by playing Rodney’s chauffer who despite being out-of-shape, short and middle-aged just like Rodney he somehow also possess super human strength and able to beat-up and even intimidate much younger, more muscular guys. It was like there was no motivation at all by the writers to actually tell a story that made sense and they were simply throwing in any gag that they thought up and hoping some would stick.

Robert Downey Jr. as an eccentric socialist student was the only supporting character I liked, but he is not in it enough. The script should’ve had him rooming with Rodney and examining how these two very different personalities could get along while getting rid of the son character completely. Then we might’ve had a character driven comedy that was worth watching. The film though as it gets done here is too transparent and despite being filmed on-location at the University of Wisconsin in Madison poorly reflects the actual college experience and will remind no one that has attended college of what college life is really like.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Metter

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube.

Raw Courage (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Harass the marathon runners.

Three male friends (Ronny Cox, Art Hindle, Tim Maier) decide to challenge themselves by running through a 72-mile span of the New Mexico desert. Along the way they come into contact with a right-wing militia known as The Citizen’s Brigade that is headed by Colonel Crouse (M. Emmet Walsh). Initially the military unit toys with the runners making them a part of their exercise, but when one of the runner’s insults their members things turn ugly and the three friends find themselves running for their lives amidst the harsh terrain and from soldiers better conditioned to handle the elements.

The script, which was written by Ronny Cox and his wife Mary, has such a stupid premise that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Aren’t there parks or a contained outdoor survival course that the men could take where they could still prove how ‘tough’ they were without throwing themselves into the barren wide-open desert? The men bring along NO FOOD, I repeat NO FOOD is brought along on this 72-mile trek by foot and their water bottles are so puny that they wouldn’t last them 10 miles let alone 70. These suicidal men don’t need a nutty right-wing militia to end their lives as they seem quite capable of doing it just fine all by themselves.

The second-half drags as the runners evade the militia while occasionally coming into contact with them and having very fake looking fights. The militia members are extreme caricatures that border on unintentional camp and Walsh, who has had a great career playing colorful character roles, is not effective as the menacing colonel

The climactic finish in which a large crowd of observers stand at the finish line waiting for the three runners to appear has to be the dumbest part of the movie. Why are all these people so excited to see who wins when they hadn’t seen any part of the race as it was run nor where there when it began? Who’s sponsoring this race and where the participants required to sign a legal waiver before they joined? What kind of a race has no checkpoints that the runners are forced to pass through to make sure that they hadn’t cheated? What’s to say they couldn’t have jumped into a car when no one was looking and drove the whole way and then when they neared the finish line they simply got out of the car and acted like they had run it when they really hadn’t?

Watching the men hobble to the finish looking all beaten down from their self-imposed foray into the harsh desert didn’t seem ‘courageous’ at all, but instead incredibly moronic. A better title for this film would be RAW INSANITY.

Alternate Title: Courage

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert L. Rosen

Studio: Adams Apple Film Company

Available: VHS

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shyster manages baseball team.

Drowning in debt small-time promoter Marvin Lazar (Tony Curtis) decides to take over the Bear’s baseball time by escorting them to Japan and managing them in a game against the Japanese champions run by coach Shimizu (Tomisaburo Wakayama). Problems arise though when Lazar runs out of money and is forced to partake in shady ploys to keep the team afloat.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster, who had penned the first one, and produced by Michael Ritchie who had been the director on the original, but the immense charm from the first installment is completely lost here. The wide-open poorly structured story lacks originality and filled with strained humor that will barely crack a smile.

The kids lack pizazz and play-off of tired caricatures that are no longer cute or funny. The biggest drawback is that the feisty Tanner who had been so prominent in the first two films is missing. It also looks weird and unrealistic that there is such a vast age difference amongst the kids in the line-up. Aren’t Little Leagues usually designed to be age specific? For instance there is usually a Pee-Wee division and then a 10 to 12 age division and so forth, so then why do we have kids here who look to be in the second grade matched with others who seem ready to enter the Junior High? Such a wide range in skill levels would make it virtually impossible to field a functional team from the get-go.

The playing ability of the team seems to have strangely regressed as well. In the first film they came close to winning the championship and in the second installment they did, but here they play like complete bumbling novices with no baseball experience at all.

Curtis is amusing, which helps save the film from being a complete disaster, but it hurts it as well because the script becomes geared completely around his character while the kids are overshadowed and forgotten. The story goes on long misguided tangents that have nothing to do with baseball at all including a segment dealing with Curtis challenging a Sumi wrestler to a match and the Japanese players getting involved in a singing contest, which begs the question if this is a movie about the Bears team then why is more screen time given to the Japanese one?

The side-story dealing with Jackie Earle Haley’s romantic foray is dumb too. He spots a young Japanese lady (Hatsune Ishihara) walking out of a nondescript store on a busy Tokyo street and for some reason becomes completely mesmerized by her and begins chasing her all around city and aggressively coming onto her like he’s a stalker, which would’ve scared any normal woman, but here this crazy behavior gets her to ‘fall-in-love’ with him despite the fact that she speaks no English.

The production values are surprisingly slick and the on-location shooting done in Japan is nice, but the script and humor is empty-headed and forgettable. It’s also interesting to note that George Wyner who appeared in the first film as the manager of the White Sox team appears here in a completely different part as a network executive.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Berry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing in the Astrodome.

Having won the league championship game a year after losing the first one the Bears now look to play the Houston Toros at the Astrodome between games of a Major League double-header. The problem is that they no longer have a manager, so Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as one for the team’s benefit. Kelly and his father do not get along, which causes friction with the rest of players, as they prepare to play the Toros who are much bigger physically and have far more talent.

If there was ever a reason as to why making a sequel from a successful first film is usually a bad idea this movie could be held up as the best example. The originality and fresh humor from the first gets completely lost here. While the first one conveyed a strong message this one has none at all and barely even a story instead just a thin plot wrapped around episodic comedy that barely elicits even a chuckle.

It does at least allow for some screen time showing the parents of the kids, which was woefully lacking in the first one. It also gives the kids more speaking lines and their presence is more central to the storyline while in the first film it was almost completely spun around Matthau. Unfortunately with the exception of Haley and Jimmy Baio, who plays Carmen the team’s new pitcher, none of the child actors have enough talent to carry the movie, which makes the scenes with them in it quite lethargic and lifeless.

Devane is extremely weak in the lead and his character poorly defined. The way he gets asked to volunteer as the team’s coach is quite awkward and the fact that he literally takes over the team in a matter of just 2 short days like he’s a seasoned manager that’s been doing this for years seemed unrealistic. It was also hard-to-believe that this guy, who worked at a pipe fitting plant, would be so adept at baseball strategy and able to convey these skills to the players as effectively as he does without having any prior experience.

The Astrodome is captured as being this impressive monolithic structure when in reality, if you see it in person, it is quite underwhelming. I realize when it was first built in 1964 it was considered the ‘8th wonder of the world’, but time has not been kind to it. If you go to see it now, which I did just this past summer, it gets dwarfed considerably by the far bigger and more majestic looking Reliant stadium, which sits right next to it. There are so many other buildings that have been built around it that the Astrodome now gets easily overlooked and almost forgotten making Kelly’s fascination with the structure seem quite dated.

In the first film the climactic game was full of high drama, but the one here is a bore. Watching the security guards try to tackle Tanner (Chris Barnes) and carry him off the field is genuinely funny and probably the film’s one and only highlight in this otherwise pointless excursion that would’ve been best left unmade.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From losers to winners.

Ex-minor league baseball player and now full-time pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) gets hired to coach a bunch of unskilled, untalented kids in a competitive baseball Little League. At first Buttermaker is only interested in collecting a paycheck and has no drive in teaching the kids the fundamentals or even in winning, but things change after the season opener when his team gets drubbed by the far superior Yankees. Buttermaker takes offence at their arrogant manager (Vic Morrow) and feels compelled to ‘show-him-up’. To do this he brings in the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) to be the team’s new pitcher as well as Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) who is an excellent fielder and hitter, but as his competitive juices flow, so does his surly side making the game no longer fun to play for the kids.

Don’t be fooled because this is anything but a simple kid’s flick. Sure the kids can watch it and enjoy it, but the multi-layered story brings out many issues that the adults will be more than able to relate to. Director Michael Ritchie deftly picks-up on the many nuances of Little League culture and if one played in it or was involved in any capacity then this movie will tap into those memories and bring back a flood of nostalgia.

My only complaint is a missing side-story dealing with the parents attending the games. It is mentioned in passing how the adults are able to be friendly with each other as the season begins, but by the end they are usually no longer on speaking terms, but it would’ve been much more revealing had this been shown instead of just discussed.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster who was the son of legendary actor Burt Lancaster. He based the story of his own experiences of playing Little League ball and the Buttermaker character is supposedly a composite of his famous dad.

This also marks the fifth film that Ritchie directed dealing with the theme of competition. His first was Downhill Racer, which dealt with the sport of skiing, The Candidate dealing with a senatorial race, Prime Cut, which was about rival crime syndicates, and Smile about the ugly side of beauty pageants and while all those flicks were good this one is his best.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s climactic game, which has the Bears taking on the mighty Yankees for the championship features many of baseball’s intricate tactics that will appeal to the seasoned fan, but still be straight forward enough for the novice to grasp. It also has the film’s most famous scene where the Yankees’ manager smacks his own son (Brandon Cruz), who was the team’s pitcher, when he doesn’t obey his father’s instructions. Then on the very next play, and in order to get back at his dad, the kid fields a grounder, but refuses to throw it to first base, which allows the opposing team to score an easy run.

It is intended that the viewer should side with kid, but I didn’t. For one thing the dad’s advice was good, since this hitter had already gotten some runs off of him earlier it made sense to pitch low and outside. Just because he kid wants to ‘strike him out’ doesn’t mean that he will or that it’s a good idea. Strategy is a part of the game and that’s what a manger is there for. What happens if this kid grows up and plays in the big leagues and then decides he doesn’t want to do what the manager tells him. How’s that going to go over?

The kid also seemed like an incredibly self-centered little brat. Supposedly he lives with his dad 24/7, so couldn’t he have picked some other time to get back at his old man instead of jeopardizing the game for the rest of his teammates who are counting on him to help win?

This also brings up the issue of who’s really the ‘mean manager’.  It’s supposed to be Morrow, but Matthau in a lot of ways gets just as bad if not worse especially with the way he ends up treating Amanda making me almost surprised that she showed up the next day to play. To me it would’ve been more satisfying having one of the Bears players do to Matthau what the son did to his father and in my opinion Matthau would’ve deserved it more.

This then brings up the third issue which is the fact that Matthau has this extraordinary epiphany in the middle of the big game where he realizes in his zest to win he might’ve pushed things too far and decides to pull back. I realize this is the film’s central theme, which is that becoming overly competitive is not good and can turn otherwise nice people into assholes if they aren’t careful, but the shift comes off like a Jekyll and Hyde. Most of these types of games last for only an hour, so having a guy at the start of the hour come off as this relentless warrior willing to do whatever it takes to win only to end the game being this high minded idealist lecturing the other parents on how it’s important that all the children get a chance to play even if it means blowing the game seems too severe for such a short period of time.

I wasn’t completely happy about the Bears losing the big final game either. Normally I’d consider this a good thing because it works against the formula. It’s also beneficial for kids to realize that not everyone ends up with the big trophy or that ‘the good guys always win’, but more important to hold your head high and be proud of your accomplishments, yet I still remained a bit frustrated. You become so emotionally invested in them winning that it’s deflating when it doesn’t happen, but it’s still one of the best sports movies ever made either way!

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube