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Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

PG | | Drama, Sport | 12 May 1978 (Finland)
The story of the friendship between a star pitcher, wise to the world, and a half-wit catcher, as they cope with the catcher's terminal illness through a baseball season.


(as John Hancock)


(novel), (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joe Jaros
Patrick McVey ...
Bruce's Father
Holly Wiggen
Selma Diamond ...
Tootsie, Hotel Switchboard Operator
Team Owner
Maurice Rosenfield ...
Team Owner
Piney Woods
Andy Jarrell ...
Danny Burks ...
Tom Signorelli ...
Goose Williams


Henry Wiggen (Author to his friends) and Bruce Pearson are members of the New York Mammoths major league baseball team - Author the star pitcher, Bruce the catcher who never quite lived up to his potential - friends, and roommates when they're on the road. During the off season, Bruce is diagnosed with a terminal case of Hodgkin's disease. Author is the only person on the team who knows of Bruce's illness, with neither planning on telling anyone. Author takes extraordinary measures to ensure that he is playing ball with Bruce during what will probably be Bruce's final season before he can no longer play. Author looks after Bruce in part because Bruce is mentally a simple man who can easily be taken advantage of, especially by his opportunistic girlfriend Katie. As the season progresses, the team isn't quite gelling, despite being the best team on paper. But as information comes to light, the dynamic on the team changes to make it a memorable end of the season especially for Bruce, who... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Sport


PG | See all certifications »





Release Date:

12 May 1978 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Das letzte Spiel  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The stadium used for the fictional NY Mammoths home games was Shea Stadium which from 1964 to 2008 was the home of the New York Mets. Shea was demolished after the 2008 baseball season. See more »


The same tunnel is used to represent both the home and away venues, the only difference being the removal of a stretcher hanging from the wall in the away venue. See more »


Joe Jaros: Can you beat a Coney Island Thirty?
Bruce Pearson: What about this Double Ace Deucer?
Joe Jaros: I wish ya a lot of luck with it.
See more »


Referenced in The Rookie (2002) See more »


Home On The Range
Lyrics by Brewster M. Higley and music by Daniel E. Kelley
Arranged by Nick Manolff
See more »

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User Reviews

More about Humanity than Baseball
20 January 2003 | by (New York) – See all my reviews

New York Mammoth star Pitcher Henry Wiggen (played by Michael Moriarty of future "Law and Order" fame) learns from that his friend and catcher Bruce Pearson (a young Robert De Niro) is terminally ill. Because Bruce is a marginal player and, more importantly, a vulnerable, simple soul, Henry sets out to protect his compadre from the wrath of his teammates, management, and the predators of Life. Upon learning of his friend's condition, Henry negotiates as part of his contract that Bruce will remain with the team for the entire season. He also strives (and this is perhaps the biggest crux of conflict of the film) to keep Bruce's condition their secret for reasons far greater than mere confidentiality. Henry doesn't know what the fallout would be from disclosure, and one of the best scenes in the film is a grilling he gets when the manager suspects that he is hiding something. Henry is also there as Bruce deals with the unsettling prospects of terminal illness. Although the setting is baseball (and writer Mark Harris is one of the best authors of baseball fiction) the story is really about friendship and what a man will do for a friend when he knows that more is at stake than winning games. Younger viewers might not relate to a number of things that date the film somewhat, such a a player negotiating his contract without an agent and Henry's offseason moonlighting as an insurance salesman (yes, players really did do that back before free agency). Any baseball fan will appreciate the footage of Old Yankee Stadium before it was renovated in 1974-75, drastically changing the character of the legendary old park. There is an eerie real-life foreshadowing of the fate of another New York catcher, also wearing Bruce's number 15. It must be said that the supporting roles, such as the team's salty old manager Dutch (Vincent Gardenia), and Bruce's gold digging girlfriend Katie (Ann Wedgeworth), are portrayed extremely well.

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