Bad News Bears, The (1976)

“All we got is a cruddy alky for a manager!”

Bad News Bears Poster

Synopsis:
Former minor-league pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) becomes the reluctant coach for a team of Little League misfits — including the 12-year-old daughter (Tatum O’Neal) of his ex-girlfriend.

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Review:
Walther Matthau is at his surly best in this classic “misfit kids make good” flick (which was followed by two sequels, turned into a T.V. series, and recently remade by Richard Linklater). Since I’m not a big fan of sports movies (or organized sports, for that matter), I put off watching this film for years; but I’ll admit that once I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised. In between many lengthy ball game sequences (hardcore fans won’t be disappointed), there’s plenty of zingy dialogue and countless hilarious moments amongst the motley crew of characters.

Most refreshing of all is watching how un-politically correct Matthau is with his young charges — he drinks in front of them, tosses them beer cans to celebrate a good game (!), and calls them every foul name under the planet. Also notable: his relationship with 12-year-old O’Neal never smacks of anything unsavory, even when he’s talking openly with her about her budding breasts; their friendship is allowed to develop without digressing into any unnecessary subplots about pedophilia.

The fact that watching The Bad News Bears evokes such nostalgia says a lot about the degradation of children’s movies these days (most of which are sickly sweet in their attempt to shield kid-viewers from anything smacking of real-life). Morris Buttermaker may be a foul-mouthed, obnoxious “alky”, but there are plenty of people like him in the world — and kids know it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Walter Matthau as the grizzled, has-been, alcoholic coach
    Bad News Bears Matthau
  • Tatum O’Neal in a worthy follow-up role to her award-winning performance in Paper Moon
  • Matthau tossing cans of victory beer to his team of Little Leaguers
  • Countless obnoxiously humorous quotes by Buttermaker:
    “Now get back to the stands before I shave off half your mustache and shove it up your left nostril!”
  • The opening moments of the film, in which we witness some incredible scenes of no-holds-barred parental pushiness

Must See?
Yes. As the forerunner to all films good and bad (mostly bad) about misfit kids on sports teams, this remains must-see viewing.

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One Response to “Bad News Bears, The (1976)”

  1. A must – in perfect agreement.

    An underdog film with a decided difference and surprising turns (esp. in character nuance), ‘TBNB’ is indeed a baseball movie both for fans of the sport and those who (like myself) do not particularly like baseball movies. (~though I think I actually learned a little more about some of the specifics of how the game is played.)

    It should be swiftly noted that the film has a terrific script by Bill Lancaster (son of Burt), who unfortunately did not have much of a screenwriting career. As well, ‘TBNB’ would maybe be slightly less effective without the sharp aid of both DP John Alonzo (“Chinatown”) and editor Richard Harris.

    Matthau, O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley each turn in refreshing yet tough performances – and just as Matthau gives each member of his team equal time on the playing field, said members each get the same time to shine as the individuals they are on-screen.

    In a way, it’s hard to call this film “pleasant”, since much of the behavior and language used by the teams borders on appalling (just how young boys tend to be) – but that’s what makes it all the more effective in two sequences in which long, dead pauses step up to the plate when the young team members are themselves appalled by just how brutal their adult managers can be.

    That said, the film *is* ultimately pleasant somehow, even touching; surprisingly, it is not as manipulative as one might expect from an underdog story.

    This is one of the highlights of director Michael Ritchie’s career, which took an odd, less impressive road afterward.

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