Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Premiered April 28, 2001 on HBO
Directed by Billy Crystal
Written by Hank Steinberg
Cast: Thomas Jane, Barry Pepper, Richard Masur, Bruce McGill, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Bauer, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Christopher McDonald, Bob Gunton, Donald Moffat, Joe Grifasi, Seymour Cassel, Michael Nouri
I’ve seen quite a few baseball movies in my lifetime, and have plenty more to watch after purchasing nearly fifty of them over the course of a recent month, but I don’t think any will impress me as much as 61*, the story of New York Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and their 1961 quest to surpass Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs hit in a single season. I’d seen this made-for-cable film once many years ago, and thought it was outstanding, but this time around I really got a feel for not only how well-made it was, but how it so skillfully and thoroughly captured a time and a place (and a sport), and took viewers on a time-travel tour of baseball and America in the early 1960s.
Everything in this film—from backgrounds to fashions to props—were re-created to perfection, and when it came to the game itself, not once did I think I was anywhere but a ballpark of the era; uniforms, equipment, stadiums, and player likenesses were all amazingly true-to-life, as were less-noticeable touches such as game programs, ticket stubs, and items on locker room shelves. Even the camaraderie between players—and their humorously profane dugout chatter and comments—rang true, and evoked a simpler time. And to think the film was directed by a man who was once a stand-up comic, had voiced a Pixar animated character, and nine times had hosted the Academy Awards.
Yes, I’m talking about Billy Crystal, a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee fan who did a fantastic job behind the camera, and along with first-time screenwriter Hank Steinberg really filled the screen with ’60s atmosphere, and got you involved with the players and their stories. That especially held true for Maris, who went through hell as the season progressed, taking abuse from the fans and sportswriters and feeling the strain—on the field and off—as he closed in on Ruth’s record.
A lot of credit for the film’s success should also go to Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper, who played Mantle and Maris, and who thoroughly convinced me that they were ballplayers; the same could be said for the actors portraying their teammates and opponents, who were equally skilled on the diamond (and yes, that was John Hughes alumnus Anthony Michael Hall as pitcher Whitey Ford…and he was great!). As a sports movie fan who demands realistically-presented scenes in baseball films, and a good story to go along with them, I thought 61* delivered on all counts, and is worth checking out whether you’re a die-hard fan or not. (9/10)