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The Bad News Bears (1976)


Has-been pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) winds up coaching a hopeless Little League team at the behest of a councilman who’s PO’d at his own talentless son being denied a spot in this ultra-competitive sport. These kids really are the dregs – lazy, unathletic and truly without a prayer. Until Morris is gifted a smartass girl, Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) who’s the daughter of one of his exes and the best pitcher he could possibly get. She’s peddling star maps around Hollywood. Plus Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) a wiseass punk old before his time who’s a great all-rounder. This year, they  might just beat their great foes, the Yankees, trained by Vic Morrow … Foul-mouthed, funny, unsentimental, this is one of the best satires of the Seventies made by that great comic auteur, Michael Ritchie, also responsible for beauty pageant comedy, Smile and political campaign movie The Candidate (not laughing now, are we?)  The screenplay by Burt Lancaster’s son Bill hits a lot of bases (!) – about the ethics of sport, teamwork, relationships, the importance of winning, and doing things your own way, but in a scathing way, of course. Lancaster had polio as a kid but played baseball at a pitch now named after this film (it’s at Ohio Ave and Sepulveda Blvd in LA). He wrote one of the sequels to this and collaborated with John Carpenter on The Thing. Matthau is simply great as the man who finally gets it together to relish the prospect of hard work and  winning, Morrow is totally on it as the opposing coach who will win at any cost and O’Neal is fabulous as the spirited girl leading the pack. This was a huge success and deservedly so. It’s the first of three films and a TV series and was remade many years later. However, forty years after its initial release it’s still the best baseball movie ever!

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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