Judge Eric Profancik says there is more to this baseball flick than Madonna's bosoms.
Our review of A League of Their Own (Blu-ray) 20th Anniversary Edition, published November 9th, 2012, is also available.
"Are you crying? There's no crying. There's no crying in baseball."
"What if at a key moment in the game my uniform bursts open and my bosoms come flying out?"
Covered generously with sweet, sticky syrup, A League of Their Own is one of those films that I always seem to stop on when flipping through the channels. It's also been one of those movies that I've given serious consideration to purchasing at the store, but I just never got around to buying. There's something about the movie that appeals to me. It's certainly not the baseball itself since the game has been portrayed better in many other films. It could simply be how amazingly attractive Geena Davis is in the movie, but I'll try not to be too sexist about it, for that would be an insult to the film's message. So, instead, I'll say that I enjoy this film for the unusual and charming set of characters portrayed in this picture.
And, if someone's bosoms did happen to pop out, that wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?
Facts of the Case
"She's also an accomplished coffee maker."
With all the men off fighting World War II, professional men's baseball doesn't have enough men to sustain the league. In comes chocolate-bar mogul Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall, director of Runaway Bride, Pretty Woman, and Beaches) with a radical idea. In the midst of Rosie the Riveter, Harvey suggests the creation of a professional women's baseball league while the boys are away. Find some talented women who are easy on the eyes, put them in cute, skirted uniforms, and let's see if people will show up while the men are defending the country.
Cantankerous talent scout Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz, Saturday Night Live) visits the heartland and rounds up some great prospects: the lovely Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis, Cutthroat Island, The Long Kiss Goodnight), who's a great catcher; her cute little sister, Kit Keller (Lori Petty, Tank Girl), who's a pretty good pitcher; and the capable Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Junior), who can really hit the ball. Dottie isn't keen on leaving the farm to go and play ball; she's perfectly content to stay at home, be a good wife, and wait for her husband, Bob (Bill Pullman, Independence Day), to return from the war. But Kit really wants the chance, and Ernie will only take her if Dottie goes. For her sister, Dottie grudgingly accepts.
After rigorous tryouts, four teams are created in the league, and Dottie and Kit both make the cut and become Rockford Peaches. They quickly make the acquaintance of their teammates, including Marla, Mae (Madonna, Evita, Dick Tracy), Doris (Rosie O'Donnell, The Flintstones, Sleepless in Seattle), Betty "Spaghetti" (Tracy Reiner), and Evelyn (Bitty Schram, The Pallbearer). Their new coach is Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, Road to Perdition, Catch Me If You Can), an alcoholic has-been who has been given this last chance by Mr. Harvey.
As the league begins, the women play their hearts out, but the tables are stacked against them. If it isn't the etiquette and poise classes, then it's the awful skirted uniforms they are forced to wear. Even though they are playing ball, they must always be ladies first and foremost. And worst of all for the Peaches, Dugan shows no interest in managing the team. He shows up, but he ends up sleeping through most of the games.
Unfortunately, as talented and passionate as the women are about the league, it isn't grabbing the attention of America. Attendance is miserable, and Harvey is going to have a talk with the other owners about shutting down the league. Yet Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn, Sneakers), Harvey's marketing guru, pleads with him to let the league go on. He understands what the girls are doing, and he cannot bear to see it shut down so soon. Harvey isn't completely open to Ira's idea, so Ira goes to the girls and asks them to add a little spice and flair to the games. And when the girls begin to do this—splits, fancy catches, free kisses—attendance picks up.
With the season winding down, pent-up tensions flair between Dottie and Kit. Will Dottie be with her team as they go to the World Series? Is Jimmy taking any more of an interest in his team? Will Kit finally step beyond the shadow of her older sister?
"Way to go, whatever your name is."
Fact or fiction, where does ALoTO fall? Smack dab in the middle. I'm not fully certain why the facts were tweaked as they were—and the bonus features do not address it either—but while it does a slight disservice to those who played and served in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, it doesn't do harm to the story. In good Hollywood fashion, the tweakings make it a better movie. It's not so much that Wrigley (of gum fame) has been replaced Harvey (of chocolate fame), but it's making our characters just a little bigger than life. Is Dottie Hinson a Hollywood version of Dottie Green? Is Jimmy Dugan really meant to be Jimmie Foxx? I'm not a historian so I can't tell you for certain, but, regardless, ALoTO is a charming, heartwarming, fun movie to watch.
We've seen tons of baseball movies, The Natural, The Babe, Field of Dreams, and Bull Durham for starters, but this is the first to give us a fresh, new perspective on the game: the feminine twist. While women certainly play the game the same as men (meaning the game of baseball by (most of) the same rules), they experienced the game in quite a different fashion. As much a product of the time they played as the chromosomal composition of their bodies, women see baseball in a completely different light, and we get to see the game differently because of them.
On the whole, most of our characters are on the thin side. They're not particularly, ahem, well developed and we know little about them. Normally I would deride a film for taking such shortcuts in character development, but I don't believe that's necessary this time. With such an abundance of characters, I feel we know enough about them to pull us into the story. Marla Hooch is a great player, but she's a bit on the plain side. It's simple and a little shallow, yet enough to place her into a few different situations to propel the story and play some humor off of it. Evelyn Gardner is a perky outfielder who has trouble throwing to the cut-off person. Because of that, she ends up on the receiving end of the movie's ultimate line and instant pop-culture classic: "There's no crying in baseball." Even Madonna, playing a character only slightly removed from her singing persona, has enough personality to sustain her part in the picture. And then there's Jon Lovitz in a role written specifically to his talents. He's steals every scene he's in.
But we do have a few characters who have been given more to work with: Dottie, Kit, and Jimmy. Of the three, Dottie and Jimmy are the most important to telling the tale, especially considering how the film is a flashback recollection from Dottie. Who doesn't love Tom Hanks, playing an irascible man? He's grouchy, mean-spirited, and crude, but, of course, hiding a heart of gold just waiting to be melted by the wonderful ladies on his team. And then you have Geena Davis as the glue in the film. Her character interacts with everyone, drawing out the best in them, giving them the energy and motivation to succeed. But all the while she secretly knows that while her teammates see this as a glorious opportunity, for her, it's just something to pass the time until her husband comes back home.
And from this is interwoven the film's slight commentary on women's rights during that time. Well, perhaps not so much "rights" as "role." Even though the women have come together to form the first professional female baseball league, the owners are counting on their femininity to pull in fans. So, it's off to etiquette classes, poise lessons, and beauty appointments. Instead of practical uniforms, the women are given skirts. During interviews, the women are shown as subservient, even serving coffee to the umpires. Women in that time were just getting their first taste of "power." The country needed them, and women realized that they didn't have to simply stay at home and pop out babies. They learned that there was far more to life, even if the men in the country didn't see that for them. It's this conflict that bubbles lightly underneath the sugar coating. Dottie, exemplifying the old way, is simply content to pass the time playing some ball, while Kit, the herald of the new era, yearns for more. It's from these two women we can see the eventual direction of women's rights. But, fortunately, director Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley) doesn't try too hard to push this point. She delicately balances all the elements of the film to be educational and enjoyable.
This is the second release of the film to DVD, and this time it's garnered the label "Special Edition." The question is does the disc earn such a weighty title? Unfortunately, I cannot give you any comparisons to that first disc, so this is solely based on what I've seen here. For your enjoyment, ALoTO is presented with a solid anamorphic print. You'll have nothing to quibble about because of the accurate palette of bright colors and rich blacks coupled with nice sharpness and contrast. There aren't any significant errors or problems, aside from a little grain at times. The audio track is a bit different as it's a 4.0 Dolby Digital mix. Still, the dialogue-intensive film sounds very good, and you'll easily understand everything with clear dialogue and some minimal directional effects.
The Special Edition release has earned ALoTO the famed two-disc
treatment, but I was disappointed with the amount and depth of bonus materials
Rounding out the bonus features are some filmographies, the music video for Madonna's "This Used to Be My Playground," and trailers for Brian's Song, A League of Their Own, and The Natural. For a two-disc set, it's not all that special.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"And there's Marla Hooch. What a hitter!"
What a cloyingly sweet, improbably formulaic, boring, fictionalized account of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. This film does not treat history with dignity, instead twisting the facts to try and make a more sensational movie. The story of female awakening during the Second World War is fascinating in and of itself and should be told with truth and integrity. Instead of making up characters, why not use the real women? Their struggle and their talents are more than enough to satisfy any audience. Truth is better than fiction.
"Boy, that was some good peeing."
I don't own many baseball movies, and the ones I do aren't the typical films that are firmly rooted in baseball dogma. It would seem that I enjoy my sports films a little outside the norm, with grand characters and a victorious underdog. A League of Their Own to me is a wonderful movie. Though the ratings over at IMDb are lower than most popular baseball films, this is one of my favorites. I find the based-on-real-life story touching, funny, and moving. The ending/beginning, with Dottie going to Cooperstown, to me is one of those perfect endings to a film. I wholeheartedly recommend this film and this disc to anyone and everyone.
A League of Their Own is hereby found not guilty of corking the bat. Play ball!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Tracy Reiner, and Megan Cavanagh
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