258. The Bad News Bears

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Movie: The Bad News Bears

Release Date: April 7, 1976

Director: Michael Ritchie

Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Chris Barnes, Vic Morrow, Jackie Earle Haley, Joyce Van Patten.

Tag Lines: “…together they make it happen!”

“The Catcher Can Only Catch a Cold. The Coach Can’t Wait to Pass Out. The Pitcher Can’t Wait to Fill Out.”

“The coach is waiting for his next beer. The pitcher is waiting for her first bra. The team is waiting for a miracle. Consider the possibilities.”

“At last, a picture of kids as they really are.”

“A classic comedy about growing up!”

Relevance: I love baseball, but I never really wanted to play it. But I did. I guess playing Little League is a right of passage for any young boy growing up in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. When I say that I played, I really just hung out in the outfield praying no balls were hit in my direction and struck out 99% of the time at bat. I also sat on the bench a lot. That was my favorite position to play.

I was also never, ever part of a winning team. I always seemed to be on the team that was on the bottom of the standings. My dad, trying to be supportive, would always say it takes a strong team to hold up everybody else. It never really worked, but I appreciated the sentiment. It never felt great losing every game, especially a game that I loved, but hated playing. It was around this time that I first saw ‘The Bad News Bears.’

I’m not exactly sure the first time I saw the movie, but it was one that was very popular in my household. We all loved it and watched it numerous times. As a young kid, I loved the irreverence of the baseball players and totally related to their losing plight. It made me feel a little better knowing that movie and those characters existed when I would come home after a baseball game and hear my mom say, “Your team played like the bad news bears.” It didn’t bother me when she said that. I always laughed. It was funny because it was true. And it gave me a sense of pride, in a sad, weird way.

Although my baseball career ended after Little League, thank goodness, my love for baseball and ‘The Bad News Bears’ did not. I root for my team whenever I can and I own the movie and watch it periodically. The movie just makes me happy and I’ll never get tired of cheering for those foul mouthed misfits.

Today’s Thoughts: I am a sucker for a well done sports movie, especially when it involves championing an underdog. ‘The Bad News Bears’ is the first of four baseball themed movies on my list of most influential films. And with professional baseball on hiatus, it was the perfect temporary fix for that void currently in my life. Even my husband, who is not in any way, shape or form a sports fan, was excited to sit down and watch this comedy classic.

As dated as it is, the comedy still works mostly in part to the great performance by Walter Matthau. No one plays grumpy old man better and he does so with just the right amount of tenderness towards the kids when needed, especially with Tatum O’Neal’s character. Their scenes together are really quite superb. It is amazing to think that this was only Ms. O’Neal’s second film and she already was an Oscar winner.

The motley crew of supporting characters are a little cliched and more caricatures than real people, but in a comedy like this, it works. The kids rule the movie and steal (pun intended) most of the scenes from their adult counterparts, except maybe for Mr. Matthau. From the bully, to the geek, to the “fat kid,” every one of them has their moment to shine. And for the most part are really funny. However. hearing kids use homophobic and racial slurs might have been funny in 1976, but in 2020 it is a tad cringe-worthy.

The sequels did not even come close to the original, but in short, they didn’t have Walter Matthau and they just weren’t funny. Real comedy stands the test of time and ‘The Bad News Bears’ is proof of that. It still made me laugh. It still made me smile. And it still made me root for those “Chico’s Bail Bond” underdogs.

Awards: BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Walter Matthau (nomination), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen, Bill Lancaster (winner).

Ways to Watch: YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Sling TV, DVD Availability.

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