Wednesday, February 4, 2009

And there's Marla Hooch. What a hitter!

If you don’t like to read about movies, then I am really really sorry about my half of this blog. I’m sure it must get old, but I just love film. I am in a movie club that watches movies every Sunday, I follow all award season news like crazy, and my DVD collection continues to climb well into the 200’s. It’s just part of who I am! I feel like I need to explain this to you, because I plan now to periodically visit some of my favorite movies and try to express to you why I find them so fascinating. I don’t know if I’d exactly call it a review (maybe a retrospective?), but read on for a few of my thoughts on the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

A League of Their Own” is truly the brainchild and labor of love of director Penny Marshall. It was Penny who upon learning about the history of the All-American Professional Girls Baseball League, questioned “Why hasn’t anyone made a movie about this?” and enlisted writing partners Marc "Babaloo" Mandel and Lowell Ganz to draft a feature film script featuring this forgotten bit of America’s past.

The story is structured first and foremost around the creation of the AAGPBL, commissioned to carry on the tradition of baseball in America while the male players were serving overseas in World War II. Most of this league history is covered (though partially fictionalized) in a faux news reel used to bridge the two past and present storylines. Director Penny Marshall’s older brother Gary plays Walter Harvey, the “Candy Bar King,” modeled after real life Chicago Cubs franchise owner Phillip Wrigley, who helps get the league started.

Enter the second most important storyline, the two sisters. Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) provides the bookends for the movie. We meet her first as an older lady in the present day (1992) preparing to attend what we will later learn is a reunion of all the former AAGPBL players. Five minutes after the movie starts, we fade into Dottie’s memory and find her and her sister Kit Keller (Lori Petty) playing small town softball in 1943 Willamette, Oregon. It’s not exactly the big times, but Dottie still finds a way to beat Kit out for the winning run and become the hero of the game. This lays the groundwork for the relationship of the sisters throughout the rest of the movie; Kit feels overshadowed by older sister and baseball star Dottie, and though Dottie cares for Kit, she can never seem to understand why Kit feels so threatened by her. They will spend the rest of the movie grappling with their relationship.

Finally we have the third component of the story, the Rockford Peaches. The Peaches provide us with an interesting and compelling cast of characters, including Madonna’s promiscuous Mae and her best friend Doris (Rosie O’Donnell). Their coach is the incomparable Tom Hanks, perfect in the role of baseball wash-up Jimmy Dugan, whose loathing of the idea of women’s baseball (“Girls are what you sleep with after the game! Not what you coach during the game!”) gradually melts away to genuine affection and admiration.

I truly feel like I’m a fan of the girls, always rooting for the team and its members, as we follow them from tryouts, through games with dismal attendance, and finally to the World Series. I love the realities of the team, with some forced to bring their children along, much to the chagrin of their teammates (“Evelyn! I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to KILL! Your son!”), many of them constantly fighting and antagonizing one another, but in the end always a team.

Perhaps the most hilarious character in the movie is Ernie Capadino, played to perfection by Jon Lovitz. Capadino is the scout that originally discovers Dottie and Kit, and persuades them to come try out for the league. In the process, he spouts off endless one-liners (“Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don't eat it.”) that make for a truly memorable appearance, especially from someone who’s only in the first 20 minutes of the movie. If the role seems tailor-made for him, that’s because it absolutely was! This was the first time writers Mandel and Ganz ever wrote a role specifically for an actor, but they said they couldn’t see anyone else as Mr. Capadino. Though it’s hard to pick, I think my personal favorite Ernie Capadino line is delivered to Marla Hooch, who’s reluctant to leave the platform and actually get on board the train: “Are you coming? See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station.”

I pretty much actively loathe the original theatrical trailer for “A League of Their Own.” It feels like someone who’d never even watched the movie stitched it together, with the dopey organ music and the tragically awful song that seems to make a mockery of the actual league. It tells you nothing of the story or anything about the movie, just the simple novelty of girls playing baseball. But I’ve embedded it below for your viewing “pleasure.”

A League Of Their Own (Theatrical Trailer)
Uploaded by NakedBrotha2007

Perhaps a better clip to show you would be Siskel and Ebert’s original “Two Thumbs Up!” review of the movie, that also includes a lot of great clips I think you’ll really enjoy seeing:

The movie concludes back in the present day of 1992, reuniting the girls for the opening of the AAGPBL Hall of Fame. This leads to a reunion of not only our Rockford Peaches, but of sisters Dottie and Kit. I can't watch the last ten minutes of the movie with dry eyes. I just can't do it.

I can’t tell you exactly why I love this movie. I just know that I can watch it every single day and never get tired of it. I find it simultaneously hilarious, heartwarming, and enlightening. I love the tryouts montage, the swing dancing scene, the bus trips, the music, and Dottie's reunion with husband Bill Pullman. I love knowing that there were once scores of women who played baseball in dresses and did it because they had a passion for it. I love escaping to 1943 to spend a few hours with Dottie, Kit, Jimmy, and all of the Rockford Peaches.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! And ditto. -m.

Stephanie said...

Val, i LOVE that you posted this. I have loved this movie since I first saw it in 4th grade. Amazing. My cousins and brother and I always quoted it when we were growing up.

Especially "there's no crying in baseball!"

perfect. :)

Austin and Ashley Evans said...

LOVE that movie! The moment I saw "Marla Hooch" I knew exactly what this post was about - love it!

Katie said...

So, so fun. I miss your movie-enthusiasm in real-life doses, Val. You're so great at championing things you love.