Ciesla Foundation // 1998 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 11th, 2013
When America needed heroes, a Jewish slugger stepped to the plate.
When your nickname is "The Hebrew Hammer," is there any chance you're not awesome? Answer: nope. And so it is, Hank Greenberg a.k.a. The Hebrew Hammer a.k.a. Hammerin' Hank, a successful major league baseball slugger from the '30s and '40s and the first Jewish sports superstar, is indeed awesome.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg offers a comprehensive look at Greenberg's rise to fame and the boatload of challenges he had to circumvent on his way to baseball immortality. Writer/director/producer Aviva Kremer blends together interviews, stock footage and some dodgy sound effects work (yeah, I'm doubting that guy from the file footage screamed that vile racial epithet in crisp post-production audio quality).
Objectively speaking, Greenberg was a stud. He had five All-Star game appearances, was a two-time AL MVP, and got into the Hall of Fame in 1956. In 1938, he launched 58 homeruns. The guy was an animal.
But Greenberg's lasting legacy has less to do with his baseball acumen and more to do with the icon he became. Like Jackie Robinson would do after him (Greenberg was one of the first players to support Robinson's breakthrough of the color barrier into MLB), he was a trendsetter for Jewish athletes. And he did all of his damage while being constantly peppered with vicious insults and anti-Semitism.
The documentary does a great job of capturing all of this, and grounding Greenberg's achievements and antagonism in the realities of the world -- a world, obviously rife with anti-Semitism and ready to explode because of a particularly malevolent strain of anti-Jewish fervor bubbling up the next continent over.
While the social commentary is the crux of the feature, baseball fans should find plenty of value with this DVD as well. Greenberg's skill was undeniable and his peers were legendary. There is plenty of old-school black and white baseball footage as well commentary from fans, friends and families (including Senator Carl Levin for some reason).
If you want to get a glance of a unique character in American sports mythology, I recommend The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.
Two discs in the set, the first containing the feature (1.33:1 full frame, Dolby 2.0 Stereo) and the second loaded with bonus features including hours of interviews and featurettes. Kempner offers a director's commentary as well.
Not Guilty. Keep Hammerin'.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ciesla Foundation
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated