Program Notes: A League of Their Own (1992)
There’s the whole feminism thing, this being a story about women discovering their own possibilities in a world formerly reserved only for men.
It's got a family drama angle, featuring a sibling rivalry.
Of course it's got "sports comedy" written all over it, plus a good dose of sentimentality.
You could write it off as a “women’s picture” about baseball ... except that the presence of Tom Hanks in top comic form widens the potential audience exponentially. Even guys like this one.
The first explosion of howls is generated by Jon Lovitz as a sardonic, deadpan pro baseball scout who in 1943 is touring back-roads America, looking for young women who can play ball. Because the Major League teams have been decimated by the military draft, the owners are contemplating an all-girl league.
The sarcastic scout hits a gold mine in Montana, where Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and her sister, Kit Keller (Lori Petty), play in a local league. There's resentment between the siblings. Dottie is pretty, married to guy fighting overseas and a baseball natural. Kit is a tomboy who, try as she will, lacks her sister's innate skills and game smarts.
But realizing he can’t get Dottie without bringing along Kit, the scout cuts a deal. Soon the sibling’s find themselves surrounded by hundreds of other hopeful young women on a Chicago ball field.
Ganz and Mandel dish up single-trait characters, but they're attractive ones. Madonna plays an outfielder known for her manhunting proclivities. This keeps her in trouble, because the paternalistic team owners forbid female players to indulge in smoking, drinking, or sex outside marriage; make them play in cheesy outfits more suitable for cigarette girls than ballplayers; and force them to attend charm school.
Rosie O’Donnell plays a tough third baseman and former dance-hall bouncer. Megan Cavanagh is a hulking home-run hitter who, raised by her widowed father, lacks all traces of femininity and moves like a Neanderthal. Bitty Schram is a mother who drags along her bratty little boy on road games.
The most wonderful character in the film, however, is Jimmy Dugan (Hanks), a one-time home-run great who has frittered away his talent on booze. Managing a team of women is his last chance at redeeming himself, but Jimmy regards it as the supreme insult.
Before their opening game, Jimmy staggers into the locker room dead drunk, approaches a urinal and proceeds to relieve himself for a good 90 seconds while his amused and/or offended players get out their stopwatches, anticipating a world record.
For its blend of high hilarity and outrageous bad taste, this episode is topped only by the infamous campfire scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, or perhaps certain passages from Judd Apatow or Farrelly Brothers flicks.
Because Jimmy spends most of his time unconscious in the dugout, it falls to Dottie to manage the team, which she does so effectively that Jimmy is forced to sober up just to avoid being upstaged by a woman.
Hanks gives a nearly perfect comic performance. Just watch his face as he tries to bawl out a player who previously has burst into tears whenever she’s criticized. As he fights his instinct to turn into a snarling, abusive maniac, Hanks’ features are contorted by the incredible effort of being a nice guy. Priceless.
Marshall makes few goofs when it comes to comedy. Drama, however, is something else. The film employs a ghastly framing device: The film opens and closes with a contemporary (i.e. 1992) reunion of women players at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. It's embarrassingly bad – mawkish, artificial and interminable.
And an allegedly dramatic scene in which one player learns her husband has been killed in action is equally inept. Yes, movies manipulate the audience, but it doesn't work if you can see the manipulation.
Still, when it comes to satisfying laughs, A League of Their Own hits homer after homer.
Other films in the series “Hollywood Homers”
Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.:
- June 2: Field of Dreams (1989) Rated PG
- June 9: Eight Men Out (1988) Rated PG
- June 16: Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) Rated PG
- June 23: A League of Their Own (1992) Rated PG
- June 30: The Rookie (2002) Rated PG
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- June 4: Major League (1989) Rated R
- June 11: Damn Yankees! (1958) Not Rated
- June 18: Bull Durham (1988) Rated R
- June 25: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) Rated PG
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.