The Bad News Bears (1976)

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This original classic baseball film features some comic performances from Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and a breakout performance from newcomer Jackie Earle Haley.

Due to a lawsuit, one of the top little leagues in California is forced to add an extra team to their league. To coach the team is former Minor League player Morris Buttermaker, who now spends his days cleaning pools and drinking beers. Things don’t bode well at first because Buttermaker has found himself a group of players who are more known for being rejected by everyone. They include the politically incorrect Tanner Boyle, the very quiet Timmy Lupus, and the overweight Mike Engelberg. When the Bears, as they are named, find themselves the embarrassment of the league, Buttermaker realizes he needs a miracle to begin winning.

He finds an old family friend, 13-year old Amanda Wurlitzer, who he once taught how to pitch as he did. At first, Amanda refuses to help. However, when he offers to help her, Amanda agrees to pitch for the team. They soon slowly begin winning games, but to add fuel to their fire, the team finds an unexpected new player in tough kid Kelly Leak, who has grown tired of being berated by the coach of the number one team, Yankees skipper Roy Turner. Will the Bears be able to get to the championships and show everyone that they are not the rejects everyone sets them out to be?

One has got to love the underdog story. It seems like 1976 was a year for two major underdog flicks. The first is the original Rocky, which was a serious drama revolving around local Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa being the underdog who becomes a contender for the championship against Apollo Creed. The second is this baseball comedy about a ragtag group who strive to show everyone that anyone can make it when it comes to sports, even with some comic mischief as a result.

Walter Matthau is great to watch as Coach Morris Buttermaker, who at first only cares about the money in terms of coaching because he’s a one-time Minor League pitcher who never made it to the big leagues. However, once Tatum O’Neal’s Amanda comes on the team, it seems Buttermaker starts making his stride and actually at times, has a bit of heart about the team, yet he lets his ego gets the best of him. The reason is because he knows what he has walked himself into and feels he has something to prove to not only the league, but to himself as well.

Matthau and O’Neal’s chemistry is fun to watch. While they are not related, it is their connection that Buttermaker was one Amanda’s mother’s boyfriend, brings to mind the fact that Buttermaker was not only a mentor, but a father figure to the fireball pitcher, and it shows in numerous scenes in the film. This especially comes into play when Amanda attempts to recruit tough kid Kelly Leak, and she loses only to have to go on a date with him with Buttermaker not being too happy about it.

Speaking of Kelly Leak, newcomer Jackie Earle Haley brings out a breakout performance as the tough kid with a rep who joins the team only because he’s tired of getting berated by Vic Morrow’s authoritative Yankees coach Roy Turner. The character of Tanner Boyle, played by Chris Barnes, is one of the most politically incorrect characters, spouting off derogatory terms not realizing that the team is diverse. Or perhaps he does know and simply couldn’t care less. Tanner even provides some comic relief when he is on the field playing the games.

The Bad News Bears is a fun baseball comedy that is driven by Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Jackie Earle Haley as part of the craziest little league team on screen. Two sequels, in 1977 and 1978 were released with Haley taking center stage as the captain.

WFG RATING: A

A Paramount Pictures production. Director: Michael Ritchie. Producer: Stanley R. Jaffe. Writer: Bill Lancaster. Cinematography: John A. Alonzo. Editing: Richard A. Harris.

Cast: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patten, Ben Piazza, Jackie Earle Haley, Chris Barnes, Alfred Lutter, Erin Blunt, Gary Lee Cavagnaro, Jaime Escobedo, Scott Firestone, George Gonzales, Brett Marx, David Pollock, Quinn Smith, David Stambaugh, Brandon Cruz.

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