Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Cinema Monolith: 7/10
Radio Times Guide to Films: ** out of 5
Released on August 19, 1953
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Herbert Baker
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Vera-Ellen, Jeff Richards, Richard Jaeckel, William Campbell, Paul Langton, Frank Ferguson, Carl Hubbell, Al Campanis, Bob Trocolor, Lalo Rios, Bill Crandall, Bing Russell
Wait, what’s this? A baseball romance drama starring Edward G. Robinson, Richard Jaeckel, and legendary Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell, that takes place in the February sunshine of coastal Florida? At an idyllic complex of baseball diamonds surrounded by trees and open sky, that would be considered heaven to every baseball-minded person on Earth? You bet it is, and no, the romance angle does not involve the three men mentioned above, thankfully, but is instead a sweet courtship between cute Vera-Ellen and shy, quiet ballplayer Jeff Richards.
However, in Big Leaguer that romance story runs a distant second; this movie is about baseball, through and through, and contrary to the title, it has nothing to do with the big leagues. A busload of college-age prospects arrive at the New York Giants tryout camp in Melbourne, Florida, intent on proving themselves to management and coaches in hopes of continuing on to the team’s spring training facility in Arizona. Tasked with teaching these young hopefuls is Hans Lobert, a tough but kindhearted former player who now spends his time coaching and scouting for the Giants.
Lobert’s niece Christy, an employee at the Giants’ home office in New York, soon arrives at the complex, and she brings some unfortunate news: Lobert’s job is on the line, and if he doesn’t produce, his coaching career may be over. Now, with that cloud hanging over his head, he and his staff open camp, with the story concentrating on a handful of prospects, all with varying backgrounds, attitudes, and skills. Which of these players will make the trip to Phoenix, and who will be cut and sent home? And will Hans prove to the higher-ups that he’s still worth keeping around, especially after his ragtag future Giants take on a sleek Dodgers rookie team in the big finale?
Being a fan of baseball, there was so much for me to enjoy about this film, I couldn’t help but give it high marks, on an emotional level as well as a technical one. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a stickler for authenticity in baseball movies, and Big Leaguer went all-out in that regard. Besides the overall look, location, and level of play, there were dozens of other touches that added realism, including dressing many of these rookies in their hometown college and semi-pro uniforms, and peppering the dialogue with references to real-life baseball, which included nods to Leo Durocher, the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers’ spring training site in Vero Beach, and even the lousy play of the current Pirates club!
This was director Robert Aldrich’s first film, before he went on to helm such well-known classics as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen, and The Longest Yard, and I thought he did an outstanding job, especially when it came to staging the action scenes on the field. I especially loved when he placed the camera behind home plate or the pitcher’s mound, where the entirety of the play could be watched: the pitcher’s windup and delivery, the batter making contact, and the ball either being scooped up by a fielder or dropping into the outfield for a base hit, all in one shot.
The actors and background players also contributed to making the action believable, in contrast to what you’d normally find in Hollywood productions like this. Robinson was great, as always, and though it was odd at first to see this one-time film gangster dressed in baseball attire, it didn’t take long at all to accept him in the role. The same goes for third-billed Richards, as third baseman Adam Polachuk, who looked smooth and accomplished on the field, and for good reason: before taking up acting, he was actually a player in the minor leagues, before an injury ended his short career.
For me, Big Leaguer was a quiet little winner all around, and though I can see where it would appeal more to a baseball fan than the average viewer, I still think it deserves a better endorsement than the dismissive Aldrich gave it during its release. Granted, there’s no real conflict—Jaeckel appears to be the antagonist, but he didn’t really do anything bad—and everyone treats each other well, and everything plays out happily in the end…and that’s okay. We need pleasant, good-natured films like this every now and then, just to give us a reprieve from the ones that aren’t. (7/10)
Love the history and connections intertwined with a movie review. Chock full of fun info to rabbit hole down.
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Hey Dan, thanks for stopping by, and glad you enjoyed the review. And good to hear from you…hope things are cool, and you’re enjoying some…Li’l Biiiiiiits!
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The “Mad Romanian” as he was known in the league. Did they mention the Giants Spring Training Facility in Casa Grande? Baseball heaven.
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Ha, the ‘Mad Romanian’…too bad Eddie G. didn’t sport a Fu Manchu moustache in the film! And though they mentioned training in Phoenix, they said nothing about the Casa Grande site…which didn’t open until 1961. Cool article, too…hard to believe the place was still there and being used by a major league team in 1983. Do you remember when you and I went there in ’88? We could see the outlines of where the fields used to be, and there was still one section of a grandstand left.
Eddie seems a natural to be sitting in the dugout and barking orders at the players and arguing strikes and balls. I like the film and appreciate the fact that Jaeckel turns up in Aldrich’s first film here and last one in 1981, All the Marbles.
Yeah, Eddie played that part well…it might’ve been neat to have him play the same character in a sequel, maybe as a true ‘big leaguer’, managing at the major-league level with the Giants in the Polo Grounds. And I didn’t remember that Aldrich directed All the Marbles…cool that Jaeckel was in that one (as was ‘Mean’ Joe Greene!).
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Sigh… excellent review!! Usual struggles with WordPress for me – ugh – but seriously enjoyed the read!!
Thanks as always, Julie! And thankfully, both your attempts made it through…eventually!