Derek Begins #7 | Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears (1976)
Starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patton-
Featuring Jackie Earle Haley & Ben Piazza
A run down ex minor league pitcher gets coerced into coaching a little league team filled with a bunch of misfits.
A true family entertainment movie by 1970’s standards if you were willing to take the risk and let your kids watch this movie.
Today’s standards would have had this movie rated NC-17 easily because of the language and certain situations the kids were put into.
Back in 1976, this film about a southern California little league and how players and coaches interacted with each other was as real as it got.
When we were kids, we were all involved in athletic sports programs of some sort. Every one of us probably encountered teammates or opponents as follows :
- Shy Kids
- Cocky Kids
- Overweight Kids
- Stats Nerds (who ride the bench instead of playing
Coaches encountered were probably either overly competitive, loving or ones who put their own problems before the teams.
This movie has it all. It really hits close to home on certain levels which is why I rated this number 7.
Walter Matthau plays Bears’ coach Morris Buttermaker
…who displays all of the coaching tendencies listed above at some point or another during the movie. His character evolves beautifully throughout the movie. He is disgruntled when he first gets his coaching assignment. He puts his pool cleaning business first as well as his beers and cigars. The only thing that seemingly keeps him interested in coaching is his weekly checks he is getting from city councilman Bob Whitewood. (Ben Piazza).
The only interesting communication he has with the kids is when he tells them stories about his days as a minor leaguer and some of the bigger hitters he faced as a pitcher during various spring trainings.
His answer to why he never made it to the big leagues is priceless:
.After his team gets beat badly by the antagonistic Yankees on opening day, Yankees coach Roy Turner (the late Vic Morrow)
tries to convince Buttermaker to drop out of the league.
Vic Morrow is very convincing in his role as the overly competitive coach Roy Turner. While he does seem to care about the kids’ well being at many points throughout the movie, he seems to be more caring about winning. Especially against the misfit Bears. He was against expanding the 6 team little league into 7 teams from the start. Councilman Whitewood desperately wanted to get his son on one of the other teams but when he was informed that the league was full, he threatened legal action until the league gave in to avoid litigation.
Even the league’s commisioner (Joyce Van Patten) seems to be angered by the decision as she sees to it that the new team gets a non major league nickname, colors. and run down equipment. Most of these events take place before the movie begins so they were never filmed.
Buttermaker decides to stay the course and teach the kids the basics which they lacked from the start. He also recruits his ex girlfriends sassy daughter Amanda(Tatum O’Neal)
who he taught how to throw a curve ball years earlier. From there he uses Amanda to try and recruit a trouble making teenager who happens to be the best ball player in the valley that nobody wants to have anything to do with. He is a cigarette smoking Harley Davidson riding teen who hangs around the playing field a lot probably out of protest for not being wanted by any of the teams. It is never mentioned in the movie. Kelly only mentions to Amanda that
“There is a lot of ass at the field”
but it is clearly not a reason to tear up a baseball field with a motorcycle.
After Amanda loses to him at an air hockey game (possibly on purpose which we never see in the film) all seems lost in recruiting Kelly. One of Buttermakers funniest lines is when he accuses Amanda of losing on purpose saying
“You probably like the little baboon”.
This is the first time in the movie we see Buttermaker show any concern for Amanda.
Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau’s screen time together throughout the movie is definitely worth watching.
There are very funny exchanges and there are very dramatic exchanges. The scene in the car after the air hockey game has it all and signals a turning point in the father/daughter type bond the two displayed throughout the movie.
Kelly changes his mind after a near violent encounter with coach Turner. From there the Bears start winning. Buttermaker starts changing.
Like Roy, he becomes obsessed with winning.
He overuses Amanda as a pitcher.
He tells Kelly to make all the defensive plays himself.
When the kids don’t respond positively to winning during the championship game, he sees what he has become. He also sees the horror in his ways when Roy hits his own son on the pitching mound for not pitching to a batter the way he wanted him to. It brings silence to the ballpark.
It was eerie to watch, but a sad unfortunate reality that happens a lot in real life.
This scene was pulled off beautifully by Vic Morrow even if he came across as a bad man.
Buttermaker responds by putting in his bench warmers for the final inning in the championship game.
Despite protests from his team and councilman Whitewood, he says:
My favorite line is when he tells Whitewood to go back to his seat before
“He shaves off half of his moustache and shoves it up his left nostril!”
An alternate ending had the Bears winning the championship in the final inning. I have never seen it, but actual footage does exist in a scene where Kelly hits a home run against the White Sox in his first game as a Bear. As he crosses home plate he is mobbed by his teammates. You could see the uniform on the opposing catcher is one of a Yankee. I’m not sure if this footage was inserted on purpose or if it was a true goof on the part of the directors. Fortunately test audiences liked the original ending better when the Bears come up short, but gain a lot of self respect for each other. I agree with them.
Not a single apology is issued throughout the movie by any of the coaches or players. It is a story of mutual understanding.
We never see Buttermaker kick his beer drinking and cigar smoking habit permanently in the movie like most of todays films would have had him do. Instead he shares his beers with the kids at the end for coming up short in the championship, but gaining a lot of respect from others.
A definite no no in today’s movie standards.
Additional storylines were written and filmed, but never used. They mainly involved Roy and his opening up to Buttermaker about his marital problems in a bar. It would have been nice to see some more screen time for Vic Morrow, but the film makers probably didn’t want to soften his character up. Softening his character might not have made the championship game as dramatic. They probably cut a lot of scenes to keep the action and story lines on the field. It is mentioned by Roy at the end where he says “We may have had our differences, but at least they were settled right here on the ball field”.
Also absent from this film was the back stories from a lot of the team players. They do get addressed in the 2 sequels this movie spawned off: Breaking Training and the Bad News Bears go to Japan. Kelly seems to be the main focus in these 2 sequels as it focuses more on adventure and road life as opposed to constant baseball. I thought they were ok. They had their moments, but lacked the heart the original had.
Most of the team returns for the sequels, but Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal and Vic Morrow do not reprise their roles and rarely get mentioned. The 2005 remake of this movie also lacked heart and originality. I felt the story came off as too scripted and too on cue. Many others have gone on to say that the Bad News Bears remake was a sequel to Bad Santa. I did not think much of the remake.
But the original is a 5 star rating for me because I have not seen anymore movies like this since.
Movie clips provided by MOVIECLIPS on YouTube.
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