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In praise of The Bad News Bears.

Jun 16 2005 09:54 AM

I'll freely admit to not thinking about movies in this way but stilll this is an interesting article of which I'm sure some will agree/disagree with.I do enjoy the movie though.

]Booger-Eating Morons
In praise of The Bad News Bears.
By Charles Taylor
Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2005, at 4:20 AM PT

At a time when sports movies can't be just sports movies anymore—when, as in Cinderella Man and Seabiscuit, they have to be hymns to our national character—it's both startling and soothing to take a second look at Michael Ritchie's Little League comedy The Bad News Bears. A surprise hit when it was released in 1976—and recently remade by Richard Linklater in a version starring Billy Bob Thornton (Paramount, July 22)—the movie is both an antidote to the sentimentality that currently affects sports movies and the last hurrah for the glorious disreputability that characterized the genre in the late '60s and early '70s.

For a while there, Americans were happy to ridicule the inspirational syrup that squares love to ladle over sports. The football game in M*A*S*H; the original version of The Longest Yard; Jim Bouton's notorious memoir Ball Four (which Commissioner Bowie Kuhn deemed "detrimental to baseball," as priceless a compliment as a movie's being condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency); Dan Jenkins' novel Semi-Tough—these works portrayed sports as something people watched because it was fun and played because it could bring them glory, money, drugs, women, and the chance to tell the bastards hounding you to stick it where the sun don't shine.

When Burt Reynolds delivered his "Win one for the Gipper" speech in 1974's The Longest Yard, both he and the audience knew it was bullshit, and the kick of it was our shared derision for all the inspirational pap that movies had pushed at us for decades. Six years later the man who, as George Gipper in Knute Rockne, All American, inspired the prototype for all those phony motivational speeches was in the White House, and a bushel of the hoary clichés that had been banished from sports movies and all movies was soon to return. The nadir of schmaltz came the year after Ronald Reagan left office, with Field of Dreams, in which '60s veterans sure did regret all that trouble they caused by rocking the boat, and baseball was held up as the one thing that could make America great again.

You could argue that, on its face, the original Bad News Bears pushes a similarly reassuring message. Walter Matthau plays Buttermaker, a boozing former minor-leaguer hired by a slimy city councilman to coach a Little League team of kids so bad they can't get on any other teams. The movie shows how these kids, truly wretched baseball players, learn that there are more important things than winning, like self-confidence and teamwork.

What keeps the movie from being a worthy little life lesson, what makes it so much fun, is the subversive way Ritchie and screenwriter Bill Lancaster go about telling a conventional story. The Bad News Bears is defiantly not charming. The Bears play so horribly during their first game they can't manage to get three strikes on the opposing hitters to get their turn at bat. The councilman, who fought to bring the team into being (and bribed Buttermaker to coach it), is so embarrassed he wants the Bears to disband.

Ultimately, it isn't can-do spirit that inspires the kids. They do it, with Buttermaker's collusion, to piss off the councilman and everyone else (like Vic Morrow, as the coach of a rival team) who thinks they don't belong on the field. And they don't get better simply because of hard work and stick-to-it-iveness. Buttermaker brings in a ringer, Amanda (Tatum O'Neal), the daughter of an ex whom he coached into becoming a wicked pitcher.

The integrity of the movie lies in refusing to make the Bears cuddly or lovable. Their crudest member, a towheaded misanthrope named Tanner (Chris Barnes), sums up his teammates as "Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron." Ritchie resists the temptation to depict the kids' foul mouths, questionable personal grooming habits, and all-around crumminess as cute precociousness. He isn't afraid to be both appalled and amused by them. The Bad News Bears offers a brief glimpse of a moment like the pre-code early '30s when movies had no use for moralism. The sawed-off badass (Jackie Earle Haley) who becomes the Bears' star slugger smokes his way through the movie; Buttermaker slips the kids beers after they play a particularly good game.

Then again, a movie that makes Walter Matthau a mentor isn't interested in building up young minds. With that lumpy face bobbing over his tall frame the way a bulging kerchief hangs at the end of a hobo's stick, Matthau's demeanor tells you he doesn't expect much good to come of anything. That doesn't keep him from trying, which is why he recruits Amanda as his ace pitcher. And Buttermaker has his own strange moral code, deeming it just as important to compliment one of the kids on mixing him a perfect martini as on his performance on field.

What keeps The Bad News Bears from falling into the post-Watergate hopelessness that dogged movies of the time is that Ritchie's is a cheerful cynicism. For Ritchie, boosterism and patriotism are just more havens for petty corruption and hypocrisy. And while it's in no way a subtle movie, watching it today, you're struck by how a movie this relaxed in its approach could be such a crowd-pleaser. (I confess to never bothering with the sequels The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.)

Which leads to the question of how Richard Linklater will fare with his remake. After School of Rock, there's no reason not to be optimistic about what Linklater can do within the confines of mainstream comedy. But he's working in an era that's both cruder and more moralistic than the one Ritchie worked in. The good news is that he's also working at a time when the triumphalism and horse puckey that in the original were represented by the schnook city councilman has been writ large. (Or, to put it another way, would you buy a used car from Dick Cheney?) Maybe Linklater can show that what will make America great again is not reverence for the grand old game, but the hearty raspberries that have always been our real national pastime.

Jun 16 2005 10:03 AM


It was a movie that was bust-a-gut laugh out loud whether you took it on face value or read into it all the reviewer mentioned.



Edgy DC
Jun 16 2005 10:04 AM
Edited 1 time(s), most recently on Jun 16 2005 10:24 AM

He seems to have his own moralism to advance in decrying the moralism of movies he doesn't like.

BNB is great for many of the reasons he cites, but he's just not looking if he doesn't see a touch of sweetness there. It's just hard-won, and coming from real people, rather than being cheap and contrived.

Buttermaker is redeemed, sure, but you know there's every chance he could wake up the next morning and be the same loser jerk again and not notice.

There's also good points of discussions of baseball strategy. Intentionally walking Kelly Leak with the bases loaded...whoah.

Jun 16 2005 10:14 AM

I went high school with #8.

Brett Marx as Jimmy Feldman.

I believe he was related to one of the Marx Brothers but am not certain.

Also, my friend's dad (the one who was in The Godfather) was up for the Vic Morrow part. James Caan was the first choice to play the Matthau part but declined the role.

Jun 16 2005 10:17 AM

Was that the one that cried a lot or was that the little #4?

THose kids are adorable, hard to think of them all grown up.

Watched this with my son a year or so ago and when I made that comment he seemed a little perplexed. Then he said "You had wooden bats back then?"

Edgy DC
Jun 16 2005 10:27 AM

The crybaby was booger-eating Timmy Lupus. Number four on your programs, I reconk.

Jun 16 2005 10:32 AM

Yeah, that's what I thought. He reminded me of someone when I was little and I just can't remember who it was.

Probably Doug Sheats. Cause of the white hair, not the tears

Edgy DC
Jun 16 2005 10:33 AM

Your search - "doug sheats" - did not match any documents.

Jun 16 2005 10:35 AM

Oh, he was a cutie and we were best buds, except when he kept developing crushes on me and I would give him the cold shoulder until he stopped.

We use to draw naked ladies together.

Jun 16 2005 11:52 AM

I'm certain we've discussed this movie many times. Does anyone remember
seeing a web article or perhaps it was in a paper - where are they now kinda
thing? Matthau was one of my favorites.

Edgy DC
Jun 16 2005 12:07 PM

Oskcar Madison, big surprise.

Any idea whose picture that is on the shelf?

Jun 16 2005 12:13 PM

What a great face.

I have the dvd, I watch it a half dozen times a year.

Johnny Dickshot
Jun 16 2005 12:14 PM

IIRC, Sports Illustrated did a thing on them in the Where are they Now issue. They couldn't catch up to Tanner, from what I recall.

I liked the article above, nice job.

For me this movie was funny as a kid, cuz I was a baseball-lovin kid when it came out, and because it was all pretty real to me (Kelly Leak = Johnny Gruenberg: Tough kid, hard to get along with, played good baseball ... later died as a teenager in a motorcycle wreck, as I imagined Kelly might) and as an adult, because I didn't pick up on the subtlties of the Little League politicking, drinking, etc.

Plus as a sports movie, it had a great ending: The kids lost the Big Game but won anyway.

Jun 16 2005 12:17 PM

Why do a remake though?, some movies shouldn't be messed with.

Jun 16 2005 12:18 PM

KC, Odd Couple or BNB DVD?

Either way, it's good.

I always forget this movie when thinking about my favorites but it's right up there, for some of the same reasons Johnny says.

Edgy DC
Jun 16 2005 12:38 PM

How about cooby's boyfriend Brandon Cruz -- had the great TV dad and the horrible movie dad.

It had a great moral subplot -- that any team that calls itself the Yankees has got to be a bunch of unvarnished jerks.

It took elements of The Longest Yard (what sports movie of the time didn't?), but has itself been knocked off a dozen times, with a half dozen different sports. You name it -- Small Giants, The Mighty Ducks, Ladybugs. Even A League of Their Own, which Norrin inexplicably prefers to BNB.

Jun 16 2005 12:44 PM

Oh, yeah Brandon Cruz, yum!

Watched him on a tv show with a bunch of other former child stars and he was the only one that wasn't acting like a jerk. Unfortunately to make up for it he had purple hair, but oh well...

Rockin' Doc
Jun 16 2005 09:41 PM

metirish - "Why do a remake though?, some movies shouldn't be messed with."

For the same reason the entertainment industry usually does remakes or sequels, money. I agree that some movies just can't be improved upon, but the lure of quick money is too much for the Hollywood crowd.

Vic Sage
Jun 17 2005 08:10 AM

i must've been smoking crack the day i made that determination.

My daughter, Jamie, is in her 1st year of little league (girl's softball). Her team is terrible, and she doesn't like all the losing, but she seems to genuinely enjoy playing.

The one irritating thing about her games are some of the other girls' parents. These kids are 7 and 8, yet this one mother decries every ball 4, every error, every bad call. She acts like she's grooming her daughter for a college scholarship, but her daughter is clearly miserable about her mother's behavior. The girl was pitching the last game, and when she had a bad inning, she nearly broke down on the mound. The couch told her that unless she smiled and had fun, he wouldn't let her play anymore. That loosened her up, but her mother's barking wound her back tight.

I hate sports parents.

So I rented BNB recently to watch with Jamie. She loved it, and i remembered why i loved it, too.

It's not about becoming "winners", in any conventional sense. the team loses the big game, after all. Its about having pride in who you are, whoever you are. Mostly its about sticking it to the a..holes we're surrounded by, who seek to keep us down. Almost ALL of whom are adults living out their own adolescent fantasies thru the kids.

Edgy is right, there is a sweetness to BNB, but its not mere sentimentality. When, Lupus, the booger-eatin' moron, gets picked on at the hot dog stand by another team, Tanner (Lupus' teammate and tormentor) sticks up for him. Basically saying, "hey, he's my teammate. only WE get to pick on him!" Its sweet without sentimentalizing. Realizing he IS part of a team gives Lupus the confidence to make the BIG CATCh later, and it is a sweetness entirely earned.

Also, there is no grand Hollywood reconciliation between Matthau and O'Neill. They come to accept each other, warts and all. But It's just as likely that Buttermaker will go on a drunk and not see her for another decade.

I dont' think you could get away with a kid in a movie today summing up his teammates as "Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron." Which says alot about our current culture and how its been impacted by both cultural conservatives and pc watchdogs.

BNB is a classic. LEAGUE is an enjoyable film, but not in the class of BNB, and i've got to stop smoking crack.

Willets Point
Jun 17 2005 08:42 AM

Confession: I've never seen Bad News Bears.

Another Confession: I did see a sequel where they play a game in the Astrodome. It sucked.

Johnny Dickshot
Jun 17 2005 10:40 AM

Confession: I've never seen Bad News Bears.

Holy Buttermaker.

Go to the local Blockbuster NOW!!!!, you booger-eatin' moron!

Jun 17 2005 12:11 PM

>>>Confession: I've never seen Bad News Bears.<<<<

I beg of you, don't go by the sequel(s).

Willets Point
Jun 17 2005 12:15 PM

I'd already figured that out on my own.

Jun 17 2005 12:28 PM

Ya know, maybe I'll just crawl in a hole.

Frayed Knot
Jun 17 2005 12:38 PM

I've never seen it either.

Willets Point
Jun 17 2005 12:39 PM

Sorry KC, I didn't mean that as a slam. Don't crawl into a hole.

Edgy DC
Jun 17 2005 12:42 PM

The funny thing is that, as far below The Bad News Bears is The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan is equally as far below that.

The second suddenly becomes a tolerable film viewed in the light of the third. The second is just a dumb story that betrays the spirit of the original, with Tanner suddenly a considerate kid who writes letters to an absent Timmy Lupus. The third is like haphazard gag footage sewn together by a third-rate studio, with another film about a loser wrestler edited into it.

In other words, my fealty to the first got me through the second. When it came to third, my fealty couldn't help me.

Interestingly, check out the level of direction the three films had respectively.

The Bad News Bears is directed by Michael Ritchie. Other Michael Ritchie credits: The Candidate, Semi-Tough, Divine Madness!, and Fletch.

Yeah, there's plenty of dogs in this guy's career, but he has perhaps the last useful Bette Midler film and the last useful Chevy Chase film to his credit.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is directed by Michael Pressman. He went on to make Doctor Detroit, Some Kind of Hero, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

Those are the hightlights.

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan is directed by John Berry, who had been blacklisted in Hollywood for making The Hollywood Ten back in 1951, went abroad, but worked his way back in the seventies with TV films and arthouse fare, then got the opportunity to make Go to Japan, and appears to have been blacklisted again after that, this time for not being good, and went back to Europe.

Vic Sage
Jun 17 2005 02:30 PM
Michael Ritchie filmography

Ritchie was a successful tv director in the 60s, before making his first feature, DOWNHILL RACER with Redford in `69. Its a fascinating character study of the selfish athlete, almost documentary-like in its filmmaking style. after a botched gangster movie (PRIME CUT), he reeled off 3 great movies: CANDIDATE is one of the greatest films about politics ever, SMILE debunks beauty pageants in a funny, dark way (it was made into a flop musical!), and BNB's classic status we've already discussed at length. SEMI-TOUGH, while not great, was still pretty good, satirizing both athletes and the self-help gurus of the late 70s. Ritchie was a brilliant satirist of American culture, bringing a cynical and insightful eye to sports, politics, beauty, small town values. Mostly, though, these films are about our competitive nature, and what it does both for us and to us.

Downhill Racer (1969)
The Candidate (1972)
Smile (1975)
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Semi-Tough (1977)

Ritchie then became a commercial hack, knocking off witless comedies on a regular basis. The only thing worth seeing from this middle period is FLETCH, and thats only because of Chase's persona.

An Almost Perfect Affair (1979)
Divine Madness! (1980)
The Island (1980)
The Survivors (1983)
Fletch (1985)
The Golden Child (1986)
Wildcats (1986)
The Couch Trip (1988)
Fletch Lives (1989)

Ritchie came back a little bit at the end of his career. DIGGSTOWN is an underrated "sting" movie about boxing, bringing him back to the theme of "competition as crucible for character". his cable-tv movie about the cheerleader mom also resurrected his satiric eye. SCOUT has its moments, and does explore his favorite themes, but its ultimately unsatisfying, and the rest of his career was a slow fade to black.

Diggstown (1992)
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993) (TV)
The Scout (1994)
Cops and Robbersons (1994)
A Simple Wish (1997)
The Fantasticks (2000)

He died in 2001, after his adaptation of the musical THE FANTASTICKS failed to even get a theatrical release.

Vic Sage
Dec 19 2005 12:56 PM

Why don't you bump this to the MOVIE forum?