I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw The Bad News Bears. It was just one of those movies that was ingrained in my psyche. I do remember specifically wanting to emulate Amanda, Tatum O’Neal’s character. I even took her dialogue and made it into a monologue for any theater auditions I had cause I loved it THAT MUCH.
If you’re not familiar, The Bad News Bears, made in 1976, follows a little league baseball team managed by an unenthusiastic, alcoholic coach, played by Walter Matthau. The team is made up of the “losers,” the ones no other team wanted. They are the ultimate underdogs.
In April, the film celebrated its 40th anniversary. The NY Daily News wrote a great piece about the film in which the author spoke with prolific producer Stanley Jaffe, as well as actors Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Charlie Matthau, Erin Blunt, and David Pollock. It was eye opening to hear the actors speak about the making of the film.
Here are a just a few reasons you should give the Bears a try!
The movie really only works with Walter Matthau. Matthau had already won an academy award and was well established; yet, he was the third choice to play Morris Buttermaker. In front of him were actors Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty. Both turned down the part and thus the part went to Matthau, who apparently took to the kids right away and knew how to have fun on set. His effortless humor and curmudgeon aura were perfect for Buttermaker, or as Amanda calls him, Boilermaker.
Tatum O’Neal was fresh off her Academy Award win for Paper Moon which she made with her father, Ryan O’Neal and Director Peter Bogdonavich. She spoke in the article about her fear in making The Bad News Bears. What she loved most about the experience was working with Walter Matthau. I, of course, wanted to be Amanda. She was tough and feminine and so sophisticated! I mean, she got to sell star maps on the street BY HERSELF.
Jackie Earle Haley, who I discussed in my post on Breaking Away, is also notable as Kelly Leak. He was only 14 when he made the film, but he seemed like the essence of cool. He was also the bad boy, but he had a good heart in the end. In the Daily News article, Haley said he still gets approached by fans because of his part. He also spoke about what it was like to be around Matthau…
“There were actually some times where he’d[Matthau] pop a can of Olympia beer open, like mid-day, and if I was sitting next to him, he’d go, ‘Here, you want a sip?'” says Haley, who was 14 when the movie was filmed. “Just like at the end of the movie. It was hilarious “(Jackie Earle Haley).
Unlike many of today’s comedies, this film was fully scripted. Penned by Bill Lancaster, the son of famous actor Burt Lancaster, there were some wonderful zingers! Some of my favorite lines:
The film didn’t always end the way it does now. They actually filmed an alternate ending with a different outcome to their last game. Stanley Jaffe put it best when he said, “It’s not about winning. It’s about trying. One person wins. But everybody can try and that’s what this picture is to me – everybody trying (Jaffe).”
There’s also a great scene between Matthau and O’Neal where she’s basically trying to get him to hang out with her and he tells her essentially that if he wanted her company, he would’ve looked her up years ago. The scene is completely understated and that only makes it more powerful – that tear going down Buttermaker’s cheek always gets me.
THE FILM CELEBRATES OUR DIFFERENCES
That’s what I think I related to the most as a kid. All of the players on the team had their own quirks that made them different. They were the underdogs and you couldn’t help rooting for them. This is still a lesson that needs to be taught, especially to young people.
Doesn’t Charlie Matthau look EXACTLY like his father now??
One of the other supporting actors, who played Ogilvie, was also known for his roles in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Woody Allen’s Love and Death. He has since stopped acting, but if you know those other films, you know he was talented!
The film was a major critical and box office success and it’s one of my personal favorites. It certainly shaped who I was as a young person. Now, as an adult, I think I love it even more – the messages, the characters, the humor! If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat – and I swear, you don’t even have to like baseball!
Vintage trailer below: