League of their Own
The sports film has been the backbone of American cinema almost since the beginning of the medium. Sports intrinsically contain every element required for a compelling story; drama, tension, the trill of triumph and the bitter sting of defeat. The most popular sports utilized are, naturally enough, among the ones most popular with the millions of sporting fanatics in the country; boxing, football and America’s pastime, baseball. Each of these sports and engendered many memorable films and one factor that is pervasive between them is the characters portrayed are almost exclusively male. Of course that is representative of the traditional composition of the sports themselves. The notable exception is examined here; A League of their Own’, a 1992 historical comedic drama that rapidly became an audience favorite and one of the most uniquely endearing sports movies on record. First for the historical context critical to understanding the movie; during World War Two just about every able body man in the nation enlisted in the military. This completely depleted the male population forcing women to migrate out of their traditional domain of the kitchen and into roles usually relegated to men. The iconic poster of ‘Rosie the riveter’ adorned most walls of the country demonstrating how the American woman was stepping up at home as their sons and husbands took up arms to vanquish the heinous Axis powers from destroying our well of life. Not only was our industrial might protected by women they were also called upon to rescue the morale of the nation. With most baseball players in uniform overseas Baseball was in danger of being put on hold for the duration of the war. Rising to the challenge women once again took up typically male vocations and became professional baseball players. ‘A League of their Own’ exists on at least one level as an enduring tribute to the spectacular effort these young women achieve. Baseball in the United States, is more than a game played with a stick and ball, it is part of the heart of the nation. It binds people together rooting for their favorite team metaphorically cheering on our overseas armed forces. With that enduing significance the film retains its dramatic impact and the humorous accents that will always bring on a number of hearty laughs.
The film opens in the current day as a widow, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is residing with her daughter and her family. Dotty reluctantly has agreed to attend a ceremony at the Baseball hall of fame honoring the AAGBL, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Both Dottie and her younger sister Kit (Lori Petty) were part of the league from its start in 1943. Now the two sisters have been estranged for a number of years. This leads us back in time to when it all began, the saying goes. With the war effort poised to shut down baseball the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall), calls a meeting of the other team owners; the topic saving their sport by creating an all-female league. Harvey made his fortune with the popular chocolate treat, the Harvey bar. In real life this was accomplished by the chewing gum magnate, Phillip Wrigley. While the movie remains factually close to the historical events there are some notable alterations such as this. Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) is sent out to roam the country to locate prospects suitable for the new league. He comes upon Dottie and Kit on their dairy farm recruiting them both for theier prowess on the field and attractive looks. The next stop he considers Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), a powerhouse switch hitter initially rejected for being unattractive but after some arm twisting she is brought along to tryouts in Chicago. All three wind up on the same team, the Georgia Peaches. During the initial period the sisters met several of the teammates including the brazen New Yorker, "All the Way" Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and her best friend, Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell), but are tough talking, full of swagger. Slowly the girls meld into a team as friendships begin to firm, the manager selected for their team is a former professional ball player, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), who destroyed his career through his excessive drunkenness. His initial lack of direction forces Dottie, a natural leader, to step in as the team’s captain.
The movie succeeds so well because it is able to work on a myriad of levels. Die hard sports fans will enjoy the many scenes of baseball plays. Almost all of them were done by the actresses performed their own sports accumulating real bruises. Layered over that is a popular trope particularly in sports films, redemption. Dugan is a drunk that ruined a brilliant career. Managing the Peaches afforded him the opportunity to respect himself again, largely catalyzed by the strong will and perseverance display by Dottie. Another dominant thread tying the film together is the story of the sisters. They were always close but highly competitive with Kit perpetually living in Dottie’s shadow. It took many years but the pair is ultimately reunited. Penny Marshall, daughter of Gary, literally has comedy in her blood. Dad was one of the founders of television comedy and exceptionally prolific in TV and movies. Penny might best be known for her role in Lavern and Shirley but after hanging up her ‘L’ embossed sweaters in favor of the director’s chair she has flourished with films such as ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Big’, this movie remains her best known work.
While it is common for a sports theme film to demonstrate extreme accomplishment this movie accomplished the goal with a certain flair that places it in a class of its own. The real historical backdrop of the story is a piece of Sports history not frequently acknowledged just as the part played by women in this time not often considered. Sports are an integral part of a nation’s identity and as a major contributor to home front morale as crucial to a war effort as bullets. The performances in this movie presented by an amazing ensemble cast bring this message home in gently human fashion. The new Blu-ray release of the movie captures the imagery in such a way that a new classic is made better than ever.
Director and Cast Commentary Featuring Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Megan
Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner