Theme Song: No thanks.
Interesting Dated References: Billboard for Rheingold Beer. The catcher being an important part of baseball.
Best Line: An exchange between two men –“I, uh, I probably ate you out now and then, but never without a reason.” — “No sir, you only ate me out for doing dumb things.” — “No, no, no, I ate you out for the good of the club, and your own pocket book … never for anything personal.”
Social Context: They don’t even use the movie to bring recognition and press to Hodgkin’s. The filmmakers instead decided to treat the disease like it was something to be ashamed of. It becomes DeNiro and the team’s dirty little secret, and for no reason! They are all immediately ashamed!
Summary: Sports-themed buddy pictures were all the rage in the 70s. One can point to the success of Brian’s Song as the catalyst for this. Studios saw sports-themed pictures as a way to get men interested, and counted on the sappy “some guy dying” aspect of the picture to drag women in. This was only moderately true, since none of the films after Brian’s Song were as successful. Bang The Drum Slowly had a little bit of a leg up since it was based on a successful novel written by some guy named Mark Harris. The novel had a re-occurring character that appeared in a few other novels resulting in a small following amongst lonely single men who like to read about baseball.
The novels followed the character Henry Wiggins as he lived the ins and outs of professional baseball. Bang The Drum Slowly in particular tells the story of Wiggins (played by Michael Moriarty) and his sick teammate, Bruce Pearson (played by a Robert DeNiro). The film gets started with the sickness drama right away. We see DeNiro and Moriarty leaving the default “this guy is sick with a rare disease” hospital, Mayo Clinic. They return to DeNiro’s childhood home and proceed to fish, burn shit, and talk over a lot of flute music. All of this over a half-assed narration by Moriarty, most likely taken verbatim from the book.
There’s some awesome hotel wallpaper prints going on in the background here. They still haven’t really said what DeNiro is even sick with. Moriarty proceeds to go about season warm-ups, scam card games, and contract negotiations. He is the only one who knows about DeNiro’s sickness, and as a result tries to negotiate in his contract that DeNiro is not to be traded as long Moriarty agrees to sign. The team agrees to this, but he never tells DeNiro, and they still never reveal what he’s sick with. It’s hard to build any type of interest when they are keeping the pivotal plot point a secret.
The season goes on, the team does well, and the story and dialogue is reasonably enjoyable until the team manager starts meddling into why Moriarty & DeNiro went to Minnesota during the off season. This is extremely unbelievable and a little forced. There is no logical reason why he would be interested in this trip. But still he pushes on, eventually confronting DeNiro about the matter. Somehow the two buddies make their stories match up, and the fucking plot resumes. Then for no fucking reason whatsoever, Moriarty tells a teammates about DeNiro’s sickness. Almost immediately afterward DeNiro falls ill in a hotel room. Then the manager hires a private detective to go to Minnesota and find out why they went there.
Unlike all the other dying-buddy-sports films, there are a lot of homosexual references, which is kind of interesting, if only for the fact it normally doesn’t happen. Eventually it is revealed DeNiro has Hodgkin’s. For some reason, the entire team goes into a panic. They hire like five additional catchers and insist on trying not to let the public find out about the sickness. There’s no real reason for them to be ashamed about Hodgkin’s. Then all the teammates bond over sickness drunkenly. And then, just when you thought things were winding down, the team goes on some type of variety show and sings a song:
I guess this is the equivalent of some type of Super Bowl Shuffle. DeNiro scores some type of winning home run and then gets sicker. Then he dies, but the team seems to win the season.
Poster and Box Art: This poster is kind of acceptable. There’s not really much to say about it. This is that type of movie where all subsequent posters/VHS/DVD covers have gigantic pictures of DeNiro on them.
Availability: There’s a DVD. Amazon. On the DVD cover they showcase when Ebert said “This is the ultimate baseball movie.” I bet he wishes he didn’t say that.