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If you've seen either the sappy, sanitized 1948 THE BABE RUTH STORY
with the woefully undersized William Bendix as the Babe; or THE BABE
with the consistently over-sized John Goodman (Ruth was never that
large)...you owe it to yourself to watch this take.
An honest effort has been made to depict the Babe with all his colorful sides and darker, less likable shades to his character. it's nearly an impossible task to portray a larger than life, legendary personage, but Steven Lang does a more than credible job.
Great care has been taken to depict the era, styles and mindsets of all the principals in Ruth's life and Ruth/Lang is on side the cheerful, over the top big kid and also the greedy, petulant, spoiled brat who feels he should always get his way, even when he knows he's dead wrong.
There's a clever cameo in mid film by Pete Rose, the current all time baseball career hit leader, as Ty Cobb (who's record he broke).
Sadly, life in regards to how Ruth dealt with his two wives and daughters didn't come to him as easily as baseball did. Here he doesn't fare as well as he did on the babeball diamond. The film touches on all this and his desire to be a big league manager, despite his failings to manage himself are also dealt with
This 1991 NBC-TV movie aired six months before John Goodman's big-screen
version of the life of Babe Ruth came out. For my money, there is no
comparison between the two. The TV production isn't perfect but it presents
the Babe's story with more depth and complexity than Goodman's
one-dimensional telling. I especially enjoyed the film's depiction of the
complex love-hate relationship Ruth had with Yankee manager Miller Huggins,
who always understood his star player's brilliance and also kept trying to
point out why Ruth's own character flaws would never let him become a
manager or leader of players. The TV-movie rightly notes how Ruth never
fulfilled his dream of managing the Yankees because of his flaws, while the
horrible Goodman version tries to push the falsehood that Ruth was denied
what should have been his for the taking.
This film makes a great companion piece to "Eight Men Out" since the story starts with Ruth's arrival in New York in 1920, one year after the Black Sox Scandal and when his home run exploits literally saved baseball from ruin. Indeed, the continuity between the two films is even accentuated with John Anderson reprising his "Eight Men Out" role as Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
I know of no two human lives that are more clearly "stories" than that
of the two great Yankee teammates, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Most lives
a litany of events, some of which are part of "stories" that cut
diagonally across the life rather than encompassing it and driving it
forward. Those stories do not emanate from or thus reveal the character
of the person portrayed.
Ruth was an undisciplined man-child with a prodigious talent that enabled him to reinvent and save his sport and made him the symbol of his era, a time when America was emerging as a world power and breaking the bonds of its own traditions to create a more modern and exciting way of living. But he offended not only the traditionalists but the businessmen who controlled his sport- or used to until he came along. When age and his lifestyle began to catch to him, they disposed of him for all but ceremonial purposes. Meanwhile his age passed and the world grew more serious. He wound up lonely and depressed and became a cancer victim at the early age of 53.
Gehrig was a serious, dutiful momma's boy, also blessed with a prodigious talent that thrust him into where he most hated to be- the limelight. It's interesting that the worst year of his prime was the one year he didn't have either Ruth or DiMaggio as a teammate, 1935. He fared much better in their shadow. He was noted, by those who noted him, as a strong, reliable workhorse of a man and a player, someone you could count on. He was amazingly beset by a disease which robbed him of his strength, the very quality in him people most admired. And that in turn, thrust him directly into the lime light. People didn't think he could respond but he looked into his heart and said what was there and nobody ever forgot it.
How could you miss telling stories like that? But amazingly, Hollywood has always seemed to get Lou's story right and the Babe's wrong. Even though there were casting problems in all the movies made about them, the quality of "Pride of the Yankees" and of "A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story" is superb on both counts. Meanwhile "The Babe Ruth Story" is one of the worst movies ever made and both the TV movie "Babe Ruth" and the film "The Babe" are deeply flawed.
"Pride of the Yankees" is old fashioned Hollywood sentiment but done by experts. I find Teresa Wright's alternate clowning and crying to be a little too much and I've heard all the stories about Gary Cooper's attempts to learn how to play baseball, (he was a cowboy and an artist but no ball-player). But he was a great actor and he got to the essence of the character beautifully. His delivery of the final speech is perfect, for which reason he was asked to repeat it to the troops over and over during his travels during WWII. I'll be loving it- always.
"The Babe Ruth Story" casts a stumpy, potato-faced introvert, William Bendix, as the big, moon-faced extrovert, Babe Ruth. It's a competent "B" movie version of his life for the first half. It might have just been a disappointing follow-up to "Pride of the Yankees" if they'd left it at that but about halfway through the script suddenly delves into science fiction and turns Ruth into a maker of medical miracles, with one ridiculous scene after another. He is, however, unable to save himself in the end, or even the film.
All I saw of "Babe Ruth" was a few scenes but once I saw Stephen Lang wearing what appeared to be a plastic mask, which tried but failed to make him resemble Ruth, I wanted no part of it.
"The Babe" is the "Gone With the Wind" of Babe Ruth movies, which isn't saying much. But is a good retelling of his life and Goodman enacts the part superbly. It ends at the right moment, with Ruth hitting his last three home runs in one game in Pittsburgh to stick it to those who were jeering him. But Goodman is twice the size Ruth ever was. The Babe, as old photos show, was about 200 pounds when his career started and worked his way up to perhaps 250 pounds when he quit. Goodman must have been a minimum of 350 pounds when he filmed this movie and sent the wrong message: that you can be a blimp and still be the greatest player in the sport, an image that baseball people really resent.
While casting is not the only problem, it could have been improved and that might have helped. Physically, someone like Dick Foran or Wayne Morris would have been a better match for Gehrig than Cooper but they wouldn't have given as good a performance. Kurt Russell, (who played some minor league ball), or Jeff Bridges would have been a much better choice for "A Love Story", than Hermann. That other "Reilly", Jackie Gleason, would have been a much better choice than Bendix for "The Babe Ruth Story", (especially if he had eaten the script). Maybe the best time to do a Ruth movie and do it right would have been after Roger Maris broke his record. Either Claude Akins, (my favorite choice of all), or Simon Oakland would have made excellent Ruths. Ramon Bieri was a good Ruth in "A Love Story". I'm not sure who would play him these days.
Of course the best performance as Babe Ruth was by the guy who played him in "Pride of the Yankees".
This movie portrays Ruth as a womanizing, hard drinking, gambling, overeating sports figure with a little baseball thrown in. Babe Ruths early life was quite interesting and this was for all intents and purposes was omitted in this film. Also, Lou Gehrig was barely covered and this was a well know relationship, good bad or indifferent, it should have been covered better than it was. His life was more than all bad. He was an American hero, an icon that a lot of baseball greats patterned their lives after. I feel that I am being fair to the memory of a great baseball player that this film completely ignored. Shame on the makers of this film for capitalizing on his faults and not his greatness.
Actors almost never look like players. They're too small, they don't
have the rhythm, the speed, the power, the coordinations that athletes
do in their prime. It's almost always embarrassing for the actor to
pretend that he does.
Having said that, Lang does a credible job in his portrayal of Ruth. He seems to have some athletic skill and he seems to have studied very carefully Ruth's stance and swing and stride. At those moments, he's as believable as any actor who has played the part.
Where his portrayal suffers is in the scenes off the field. Lang is not as big or bear-like as Ruth. How many men are? He tries to capture Ruth's gregariousness and talented actor that he is, comes close, but not close enough for me.
For the most part the film-makers cast actors small of stature to make Lang's Ruth appear bigger and more imposing. But not in every scene, which a unforgivably dumb as periodically then Lang looks small, the spell is broken and we forget to suspend disbelief.
Another major flaw: Lang's prosthetic nose (Ruth had an odd, fleshy nose) is gray in color and obvious. Also obvious are the shoulder pads beneath his uniform.
We've seen the story before in books and in movies. Little if anything is new here. Just the same, any baseball fan, certainly any Ruth fan will find the film compelling enough to sit thru, but I'm still waiting for someone to tell this legendary figure's story right from beginning to end. It's a problem of casting. It would probably require locating another Babe Ruth. Can't count on someone like that coming along any time soon.
I love this movie because I had a small non-speaking roll. I was the father listening to a game on the radio with my wife and son. I was brilliant, but IMD will not add me as an uncredited roll. But it's me, watch the movie and you will see. I have a pipe and everything. Martin J. Newcott (father listening to the radio)
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