Combustible Celluloid
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With: Walter Matthau, Chris Barnes, Tatum O'Neal, Ben Piazza, Vic Morrow, Erin Blunt, Jackie Earle Haley, Gary Lee Cavagnaro, Joyce Van Patten, Jaime Escobedo, Scott Firestone, George Gonzales, Alfred W. Lutter, Brett Marx, David Pollock
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 102
Date: 04/06/1976

The Bad News Bears (1976)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Punch Drunk Glove

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It suddenly occurred to me halfway through the original The Bad NewsBears that I was watching a W.C. Fields movie. Walter Matthau was theperfect Fields for the modern age. He's a beer-swilling, grumbling curmudgeonthrown in with a batch of misfit kids (fat kids, Mexican kids, Jewishkids, foul-mouthed kids, etc.) and he develops a look on his face as ifa dog just piddled on his best polyester suit. It's not long before the"David vs. Goliath" formula kicks in, but Matthau's perfectlyrestrained, brilliantly comic performance holds it together.

I wish I could say the same for the two sequels -- The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) --which Matthau declined to appear in. The second film has William Devane and the third TonyCurtis filling in for the Matthau role, but neither shows the same comiccynicism or restraint. The sequels both have their share of goodbaseball scenes (especially the big-league park in Breaking Training)but they both foresaw the coming of the 1980s with their blatantcookie-cutter formula. On a side note, Go to Japan was directed by thelate John Berry, who had been blacklisted in the 1950s.

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