The Bad News Bears
|The Bad News Bears|
|Directed by||Michael Ritchie|
|Produced by||Stanley R. Jaffe|
|Written by||Bill Lancaster|
Jackie Earle Haley
Joyce Van Patten
|Music by||Jerry Fielding|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
|Edited by||Richard A. Harris|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|April 7, 1976|
The Bad News Bears is a 1976 American sports comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie. It stars Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal. The film was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978, a short-lived 1979–80 CBS television series, and a 2005 remake.
Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), a former minor-league baseball player and an alcoholic who cleans swimming pools, is illegally hired (little league coaches are not allowed to be paid) by a city councilman named Bob Whitewood (Ben Piazza), an attorney who filed a lawsuit against a competitive Southern California Little League, which excluded the least athletically skilled children (including his son Toby) from playing. To settle the lawsuit, the league agrees to add an additional team—the Bears—which is composed of the worst players.
Buttermaker becomes coach of the unlikely team. It includes (among others) a near-sighted pitcher named Rudy Stein (David Pollock), an overweight catcher named Mike Engleberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro), a foul-mouthed shortstop named Tanner (Chris Barnes)with a Napoleon complex, an outfielder, Ahmad Abdul Rahim (Erin Blunt) who dreams of emulating his idol Hank Aaron, two non-English-speaking Mexican immigrants, a withdrawn (and bullied) boy named Timmy Lupus, and a motley collection of other "talent". Shunned by the more competitive teams (and competitive parents), the Bears are outsiders, sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds. In their opening game the top-notch Yankees, who are coached by aggressive, competitive Roy Turner (Vic Morrow), they do not even record an out, giving up 26 runs before Buttermaker forfeits the game while the Yankees start ridiculing the Bears.
The next day, a dejected Bears team--except Tanner, who had fought the entire fifth grade and had the bruises to show it--tries to quit the season and turn in their uniforms, but Buttermaker decides to become a true coach for the kids. He tells them that he is the one who had quit, that quitting is a tough thing to overcome, and that they need to get back on the field. When the boys say their vote to quit is final, Buttermaker rises up in anger, tells them that his vote is the only one that counts on the team, and profanely threatens them into getting back on the field. In fear and respect, the boys run out on the field; and Buttermaker starts teaching them how to play baseball. They then lose the next game 18-0, but they finished the game and even got a man on base. Buttermaker rewards their efforts with hot dogs and soft drinks, showing that they are coming together as a team.
Realizing the team is still nearly hopeless, Buttermaker recruits a couple of unlikely prospects: first up is sharp-tongued Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal), a skilled pitcher (trained by Buttermaker when she was younger) who is the 11-year-old daughter of one of Buttermaker's ex-girlfriends. She now peddles maps to movie-stars' homes. Amanda tries to convince Buttermaker that she has given up baseball, but then she reveals that she had been practicing "on the sly". Amanda makes a number of outlandish demands (such as imported jeans, modeling school, ballet lessons, etc.) as conditions for joining the team. Buttermaker asks, "Who do you think you are, Catfish Hunter?" Amanda responds, "Who's he?"
With Amanda on the team, the Bears become competitive, but after another loss in which Lupus drops a fly ball and allows the winning score, Tanner grows enraged at Lupus. Buttermaker instills in his team the concept of "team wins" and "team losses." The next day at the snack bar, Tanner shuns Lupus for his apparently gross eating habits. After Lupus moves away, Tanner witnesses Joey Turner, son of the Yankees' coach Roy, start harassing Timmy Lupus at the snack bar, first taking away Lupus' hat, then filling it with mustard and ketchup and throwing it back on Lupus' head. Tanner then confronts Joey and shoves his burrito in Turner's face, and a fight ensues in which Tanner is stuffed in a garbage can. Lupus expresses his appreciation for Tanner taking up for him. Tanner responds by advising Lupus to wipe his nose more often so people "will not give him crud all the time." The sight of a crestfallen Lupus leads Tanner to take a more friendly approach to the bullied boy.
Rounding out the team, Buttermaker recruits the "best athlete in the area", who also happens to be a cigarette-smoking, loan-sharking, Harley-Davidson-riding troublemaker, Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley). No one else on the team is pleased at first with the new additions, but with Amanda and Leak on board, the Bears gain confidence and begin winning.
However, some issues begin to appear. Wanting to get to the championship game, Buttermaker tells Kelly to hog the fly balls to make the outs. When the other outfielders get resentful, Kelly stops, incurring Buttermaker's ire. Kelly then takes two easy strikes, again incurring Buttermaker's wrath, but then he contemptuously goes back to bat and hits a home run in spite of his coach to win the game and send the Bears to the championship. After the game, Amanda begins suggesting that she, Buttermaker, and her mom spend time together; but Buttermaker shrugs off the idea. When Amanda persists, he grows angry and rejects Amanda who walks away as if nothing is wrong but then begins weeping.
Prior to the league's championship game against the Yankees, the team experiences a meltdown. None of the players want to warm up with Kelly because he obeyed Buttermaker's orders the previous game to handle all the outs in the outfield. When a fight ensues between Tanner and Kelly, Buttermaker reveals that he ordered Kelly to handle the fly balls because he wanted them to make the championship. The rest of the boys on the team look betrayed. As the game progresses, tensions are ratcheted up as Buttermaker and Turner engage in shouting matches, directing their players to become increasingly more ruthless and competitive, with the Yankees going as far spiking Amanda on a slide, or Buttermaker telling Rudy to leaning into the strike zone to get hit and get on base. Buttermaker even forces Amanda to keep pitching, even though her arm hurts.
The turnaround point of the game comes after a heated exchange between Turner's son (and Yankees pitcher) Joey (Brandon Cruz) and the Bears' catcher Engelberg, who is at bat. Turner orders his son to walk Engelberg, the only Bears hitter he hasn't been able to overcome. Engelberg gloats, so Joey intentionally throws a beanball, nearly striking Engelberg in the head. A horrified Turner goes to the mound and slaps his son. On the next pitch, Engelberg hits a routine ground ball back to Joey, who exacts revenge against his father by holding the ball until Engelberg circles the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Joey then drops the ball at his father's feet and leaves the game with his mother.
Buttermaker's turn to lose perspective comes when he orders Stein to once again lean into the strike zone. However, Rudy does not want to get hurt, so he swings away and makes an out. Buttermaker grows enraged, yells at Rudy to obey his orders, and then dresses down the Bears team for their shoddy play. He suddenly realizes that he has become as competitive as Turner, a man he can't stand. He relents and lets Amanda come out of the game and puts benchwarmers on the field, thus giving every kid a chance to play--including Lupus. Mr. Whitehead tries to argue with Buttermaker, telling him that victory is within his grasp, but Buttermaker shouts him down and sends him back to the stands. The substitute Bears make errors and the team falls far behind on the scoreboard. However, when a long fly is hit in Lupus' direction, the oft-maligned and bullied kid makes the catch, ending the inning, and running in with his team celebrating with him.
In the bottom of the inning, the Bears get two quick outs--one of which happened when Rudy tried to stretch a single into a double. Rudy apologizes, but Buttermaker heals that wound by complimenting him on his aggressive play. Down to the last out, the spectators start leaving the stands, convinced the game is over and leading the league coordinator (Joyce Van Patten) to remark on how she never thought the Bears would make it so far. But then, the Bears rally. Ahmad bunts his way on base and Ogilvie and one of the Mexican players both walk. It brings Kelly Leak to bat with a chance to be a hero.
Turner decides not to let Kelly hit the ball. He orders another intentional walk, even though it will cost the Yankees a run. Buttermaker mocks the opposing manager, who just smirks. So, against all logic, Buttermaker gives a sign to Kelly to swing away. Kelly lunges at a far-outside pitch and belts the ball to the wall. The three runners score ahead of Kelly, who races toward home plate with the game-tying run, only to be called out by the umpire on a very close play. The game is over.
Having narrowly lost 7 to 6, Buttermaker treats his underage players to free rein of his beer cooler, telling them how proud he was of their effort. Although they did not win the championship, they have the satisfaction of having come a long way. Amanda then suggests that Buttermaker teach her how to hit better the next year, and Buttermaker warmly responds, "You bet."
The condescending Yankees congratulate the Bears telling them that although they are still not that good, they have "guts." Tanner, the shortstop, replies by telling the Yankees where they can put their trophy and their apology, followed by Lupus, who overcomes his chronic shyness enough to throw the Bears' second-place trophy at the Yankees and yell "Wait till next year!", after which the Bears spray beers all over each other as if they had won the game.
The camera then moves away from the celebration to the waving American flag.
|Morris Buttermaker||Walter Matthau||Coach of the Bears: A drunken, loud, ex-professional baseball pitcher and part-time pool cleaner, who drives a blue Cadillac convertible|
|Roy Turner||Vic Morrow||Coach of the Yankees|
|Cleveland Ohio||Joyce Van Patten||League manager|
|Bob Whitewood||Ben Piazza||City councilman and lawyer who sued the league to allow the Bears (in particular, his son) to play. He convinces (and pays) Buttermaker to coach the team.|
|Regi Tower||Scott Firestone||Fairly quiet red-headed third baseman whose dad vocally attends practices and games. Also plays first base. Wears number 1.|
|Toby Whitewood||David Stambaugh||An unassuming boy who plays first base. He knows about the other players' personalities and at times speaks for the team. Son of councilman Bob Whitewood, who secretly paid Buttermaker to coach the team. Wears number 2.|
|Kelly Leak||Jackie Earle Haley||Local troublemaker who smokes and rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Also the best athlete in the neighborhood. He alternates between left and center field and has a crush on Amanda. Wears number 3.|
|Timmy Lupus||Quinn Smith||A "booger-eating spaz;" plays right field and is considered to be the worst player on the team, but surprises everyone in the final game by making a key play to keep the Bears in the game. He is the most quiet and shy player, but showed the odd ability to properly prepare a martini for Coach Buttermaker while the team was assisting the coach with pool cleaning. Wears number 4.|
|Mike Engelberg||Gary Lee Cavagnaro||An overweight boy who plays catcher; A great hitter, he frequently teases Tanner about his size, his jabs at Yankee pitcher Joey Turner ignite a rivalry. Wears number 5.|
|Jose Aguilar||Jaime Escobedo||Miguel's older brother who plays second base; doesn't speak English. Wears number 6.|
|Miguel Aguilar||George Gonzales||Jose's younger brother; mostly plays right field. He doesn't speak English either; so short that the strike zone is non-existent. Wears number 7.|
|Jimmy Feldman||Brett Marx||Fairly quiet third baseman with curly blond hair. Wears number 8.|
|Alfred Ogilvie||Alfred W. Lutter||A bookworm who memorizes baseball statistics. He's mostly a benchwarmer who assists the coach with defensive strategy. A backup outfielder/first baseman, but reluctant to play as he feels he's one of the worst players on the team. Wears number 9.|
|Rudi Stein||David Pollock||Nervous relief pitcher with glasses who is a terrible hitter; asked by Coach Buttermaker to purposely get hit by pitches in order to get on base. Also a backup outfielder. Wears number 10.|
|Amanda Whurlizer||Tatum O'Neal||11-year-old pitcher who feels insecure about her tomboy image. She is proven to be a good pitcher. Her mother is Buttermaker's ex-girlfriend. Wears number 11.|
|Tanner Boyle||Chris Barnes||Short-tempered shortstop with a Napoleon complex; after suffering a horrible loss on their first game, he picks a fight with the entire seventh grade from his school (and loses). He tends to curse more than the others, and often insults and bullies Timmy. Wears number 12.|
|Ahmad Abdul-Rahim||Erin Blunt||A Black American Muslim who plays in the outfield and adores Hank Aaron; strips off his uniform in shame after committing errors, but is convinced to return to the team by Buttermaker. Wears number 44 in honor of his hero.|
|Joey Turner||Brandon Cruz||The star pitcher for the Yankees (wears number 2 for that team). Coach Roy Turner's son. He has a rivalry with Engleberg and regularly bullies Tanner and Timmy. Allows Engleberg an inside-the-park home run, then quits the team after Roy slaps him in anger for almost beaning the Bears catcher.|
Discussing her relationship with co-star Walter Matthau on MLB Network’s Costas at the Movies in 2013, Tatum O’Neal described a visit Matthau paid to her in the hospital following a car accident a few years later: “He said, ‘Kid, I just had to come in and see that you were all right.’ I can’t say that was true for every actor I’ve worked with…It was a pretty special moment for me, one that I will never forget.”
The Bad News Bears was filmed in and around Los Angeles, primarily in the San Fernando Valley. The field where they played is in Mason Park on Mason Avenue in Chatsworth. In the film, the Bears were sponsored by an actual company, Chico's Bail Bonds. One scene was filmed in the council chamber at Los Angeles City Hall.
The film was notable in its time for the amount of vulgarity, (including profanity and ethnic slurs) from the mouths of the various child actors who played the principal roles (specifically, Tanner Boyle played by Chris Barnes, quoted as calling his teammates "a bunch of Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron"). Most of the questionable dialogue was used for comic effect. A true product of the mid-1970s, it includes a scene that would most likely no longer be allowed in a PG-rated film today: An inebriated Buttermaker drives the players, who are not wearing seatbelts, in an open-top convertible, with a broken windshield.
The Bad News Bears received positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 96%, based on reviews from 26 critics, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Bad News Bears is rude, profane, and cynical, but shot through with honest, unforced humor, and held together by a deft, understated performance from Walter Matthau."
Speaking about the popularity of the movie and her character on MLB Network’s Costas at the Movies in 2013, Tatum O’Neal said, "It’s so funny because I have a group of 48-year-old men, like Vince Vaughn…who have posters of 'Bad News Bears,' Jason Patric, Quentin Tarantino. There’s a group of people, mostly men, who think that character of Amanda Whurlitzer is the most appealing little girl at that age…It must be a toughness with a little femininity."
Walter Matthau was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy. The screenplay by Bill Lancaster, son of actor Burt Lancaster, was winner of a Writers Guild of America award.
Saturday Night Live did a parody of the film with Matthau as the guest host called The Bad News Bees with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and the rest in their recurring bee costumes. This subtly dealt with masturbation which was referred to as "buzzing-off".
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs—nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10—nominated sports film
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers—nominated
- Box Office Information for The Bad News Bears. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- "The Bad News Bears, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
- "Ryan O'Neal: Does Father Know Best?: Ryan O'Neal". Los Angeles Times. 23 July 1978. p. v24.
- Lee, Grant (28 August 1977). "Ryan O'Neal: A Love-Hate Story". Los Angeles Times. p. q1.
- Review, The Bad News Bears, Chicago Sun-Times, April 13, 1976
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