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Overall Rating
4

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look76.67%
Average: 6.67%
Pretty Bad: 3.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings


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Bang the Drum Slowly
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by Matt Mulcahey

"I guess there is crying in baseball."
4 stars

There are few things worse to male movie fans than sitting through sappy, estrogen-filled chick flicks. Your girlfriend will cry, you will be bored. And anyone with a main squeeze in 1970 was undoubtedly tortured with the mother-of-all chick-flicks, Love Story. But that film’s success also provided a rise to the bastard son of the chick flick: the “male-weepie.” The male-weepie is similar to the check-flick in nature, except if features men doing manly things before tragedy strikes. And then the men handle the tragedy in manly ways.

The greatest of the early 70s male-weepie heyday is Brian’s Song, one of the only excusable occasions for a guy to cry without his buddies being obligated to mock him mercilessly. The film tells the story of Chicago Bears running backs Gayle Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and how cancer brought these friends closer off the field and made them even hungrier to excel on the field.

The huge success of the made-for-TV Brian’s Song lit up the lightbulbs of the always creatively challenged movie execs, and soon the story of male friendship ending in tragedy was transformed to other sports as well.

The best of these spin-offs took place on the baseball diamond in 1973’s Band the Drum Slowly. The source material for the movie actually comes from the novel of the same name, published in 1956 by Mark Harris, who also wrote the screenplay. Though it finally made it to big screen in part because of the success of Brian’s Song, Bang the Drum Slowly is a very unique film that stands solely on its own.

The story center’s around two players: Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty, a star pitcher who’s currently sitting out spring training until his new contract can be settled, and Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro, a second-rate catcher fighting a losing battle for a spot on the roster. Both play for a fictional NY team that looks suspiciously like the Yankees.

The two are roommates, but no particular friends. Wiggen is charming, outgoing and smooth, Pearson is dimwitted, styleless and sloppy. Wiggen initially has more pity for Pearson than affection, but for reasons even he can’t fully comprehend he feels responsible to help Pearson. When he finds out Pearson has Hodgkin’s disease, Wiggen does everything in his power to make sure the catcher has one last season in the sun.

What sets Bang the Drum Slowly apart from not just male-weepies but sports movies in general is how Harris and director John Hancock are able to evade many of the clichés that normally plague both sub-genres.

The movie is never overly sentimental. There are moments of true sadness, but they’re underplayed with a quiet, dignified subtlety, thanks largely in part to the outstanding performances of the two leads. Bang the Drum Slowly also lacks the “Big Game” clichés almost always associated with sports movies. Yes, the team is in a pennant race, but it never comes down to one game or one big at bat. This movie isn’t about whether the team wins or loses. It’s about how these two men, and the other men on the team, deal with death and the camaraderie that forms from their newfound appreciation for life.

After the explosive passion De Niro brought in the same year to Johny Boy in Mean Streets, his transformation into a quiet, mild-mannered, Georgia gold-old-boy is an early indicator of the actor’s exceptional range and talent. A year later De Niro would give his first Oscar-winning performance in The Godfather Part II.

Though the film did provide De Niro with an early avenue to display his chameleon-like ability, it is really Moriarty who carries the picture and it’s his character that you relate to. Though he has often times been a stone-faced, monotoned presence, particularly in TV’s Law and Order, Moriarty exudes a confidence, cool and charm he has seldom recaptured on screen.

The two leads are backed by a host of wonderful supporting actors, led by Vincent Gardenia in an Oscar-nominated performance as the teams no-nonsense manager. Laverne and Shirley actor Phil Foster also gives a good turn as the teams first base coach, providing some comic relief by suckering baseball fans into a card game called TEGWAR.

So the next time your girlfriend makes you sit through something like Kate and Leopold, make her watch Bang the Drum Slowly. That way she can still cry and be all sensitive, and you’ll actually get to sit through a good film for a change.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3696&reviewer=255
originally posted: 12/20/01 11:11:25
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User Comments

7/14/13 mr.mike I found it unwatchable. Moriarty is awful in it. 2 stars
4/08/10 PAUL SHORTT WELL ACTED TEERJERKER 3 stars
10/25/08 BOB MINNERLY As a result ot watching it, "I don't rag anyone no more!" 5 stars
5/08/06 Thomas Semesky Slow at times, but an interesting look at early De Niro. 3 stars
10/23/04 UMER movie that put deniro in limelight even before GODFATHER happened 4 stars
5/24/04 Peter a touching account of true friendship 4 stars
2/23/03 Bruce Saw it as a kid on the big screen 30 years ago, much better second time around. 4 stars
7/07/02 Sally Otton One of my favorite movies of all time!!! 4 stars
3/07/02 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe Doesn't go for the cheap sentiment you might have expected 5 stars
2/19/02 Barry Solid movie; a must see for fans of Moriarty, DeNiro or even baseball 5 stars
1/28/02 Jonathan Patterson Wish it was available on PAL 4 stars
2/19/01 Phil M. Afficianado The best baseball movie of all time. Largely undiscovered. Watch in the spring. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-May-1973 (PG)

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