BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY TURNS 45 THIS MONTH
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“Bang The Drum Slowly” officially turned 45 on August 26th. While this will be reaching you late, let’s begin by saying something. When I really get obsessed with a movie, it’s easily a week of editing down the audio transcript of my ranting. For a film that I haven’t seen since a WBNA broadcast in the early 90s, I wasn’t expecting much. Well, what I found was probably the most nonsensical baseball film ever made. “Ed” at least stuck to its one track.
For those that haven’t seen the film, it involves the season after Robert De Niro’s Bruce Pearson finding out that he has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Being as it’s the early 1970s and a film, he is given a terminal diagnosis but allowed to continue playing Major League Baseball. Mind you that this film was half-assed adapted from a 1950s novel where Bruce Pearson wasn’t even the main character. Oh no! Michael Moriarty’s the main character of a four or five part book series where Pearson only appears in the same-titled second novel.
ROBERT DE NIRO AS A SLOW-WITTED COUNTRY BUMPKIN
Bruce Pearson is from rural Georgia, but you would think he was from Petticoat Junction by the accent. Sure, I get that the character was written as a yokel raised in the 40s/50s in the original novel. But, the film just changes WWII to Vietnam and never adapts much else for the story. So, the same stereotypes hold true regardless of the decade as no one took issue with De Niro’s performance. Mind you that this film was released a few weeks before Mean Streets and Film Press hadn’t fallen in love with him yet.
Well, this film allows De Niro to be all shucks and show his dick off to an assembled room of actors. Vincent Gardenia thinks he has the clap, but others have to examine De Niro’s exposed penis to make sure what’s going on. That’s when some of the key players get the notion that De Niro’s Bruce Pearson might be sick. This doesn’t matter until Michael Moriarty’s character eventually blurts out that De Niro is dying ala a TGIF sitcom plot point.
BASEBALL IN THE AMERICAN CINEMA ALA BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
Baseball has been in American cinema for ages. While it found its groove during the Depression/WWII era, America’s pastime gets wheeled out every few years to examine and celebrate athletic men. While the original novel was an examination of Michael Moriarty’s character professional rise as a pitcher, the focus is lost by giving so much time to De Niro. From the first scene, the focus is on De Niro. Hell, the final scene recapping the team winning the World Series is told in narration over the end of De Niro’s funeral.
In this film, baseball exists just to give the men something to do during the year. Hell, it makes no sense how no one in an early 70s ball club could figure out what was happening with Pearson. The team doctors, the weird contract issues and disappearing to Minnesota during the off-season raised zero eyebrows. I get a creative team not understanding the sport, but none of this makes sense.
MICHAEL MORIARTY DOESN’T GET HIS DUE
Michael Moriarty has been a personal favorite. Whether it’s dominating in Larry Cohen movies or dancing to Summertime Blues in Troll, I love Moriarty. However, he exists as an adult man given lines that belong to a kiddie movie. His entire arc is learning how to treat people better while watching DeNiro die. He gets nothing but praise and an eventual World Series title for his efforts. All the while, he feels guilty for not sticking up for his redneck friend.
You never hear Michael Moriarty talk about this film for a reason. I don’t know what part of his butt he had to dig into to find the motivation to work his way through this movie. While his character helps De Niro in terms of insurance and not getting traded, he still feels guilty for not defending his pal? What more could he have done? It’s been awhile since I took a deep film dive that irritated me this bad. Thanks, baseball! Thanks, Robert De Niro! Thanks, lymphoma!