Written by Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel
Directed by Penny Marshall
Having watched movies such as Far From Heaven and Mona Lisa Smile lately, it was very refreshing to pick up the newly released special edition of A League of Their Own. Instead of a film that seems to show how difficult it was for women, A League of Their Own seems to show that there were opportunities as well.
The plot details the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. At that time, so many professional baseball players in the major leagues were either being drafted or volunteering to fight that the owners were afraid baseball would have to be shut down. As they did in many other industries during that time, women stepped in to fill the roles. This movie celebrates their achievements in those roles. No matter what you were before – a beauty queen, a dairy farmer, a dance hall girl (or bouncer), these women came together with the only thing in common being a love of the game.
The plot centers around two sisters, Kit Keller and Dottie Hinson (Lori Petty and Geena Davis). Dottie’s husband is off fighting in the war and the two women are enticed into leaving their parent’s farm and their jobs at a local dairy to try out for the league. Having two daughters of my own, I can tell you the rivalry shown between the two sisters is quite real as Kit always seems to be living in her older sister’s shadow.
On their way to the try-outs in Chicago, they pick up Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh). She is an excellent player, but not much to look at which is the angle the owners were going for. All three of the girls make the Rockford Peaches and with their manager, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), try to make it to the World Series. Along the way, there is a lot of fun, some terrific baseball, and a few good stories woven throughout the script.
Of particular note is how Jimmy’s attitude changes. In the beginning, he sees taking this job as the end of his career. He’s blown out his knee, so he can’t play or serve in the military. His one managerial job ended with him selling off the team’s equipment to fund a drinking binge. He sees where he is as rock-bottom and something of a joke. Slowly he comes around and begins to see that these women are every bit as good competitors as the men he once played with and managed. That’s the great thing about baseball – how good you are is really only measured by how good your competitors are. If the playing field is fairly level, all the games have the potential to be exciting (try telling that to George Steinbrenner). By the end of the film, he is enjoying what he is doing more than anything else he could imagine at that time in his life. He learns, as the audience does, that coaching women is different than coaching men – hence the infamous there’s no crying in baseball… line. These women may compete on the field, but they are also there for each other. I wish the whole story of Marla coming back and playing while pregnant was left in the original cut, as this demonstrates the different approach to the game quite well. There’s a little bit of romantic tension between Jimmy and Dottie (again, shown even more in the deleted scenes), but this is the 1940s, and the reality is that she’s going home with her husband when he returns from the war.
Dottie was a great character too, as she’s shown as someone who likes being in her own comfortable world and doesn’t like to take too many chances in life. Yet once she gets on the field, she loves the game. It brings out a side in her that nothing else touches, and probably nothing else ever will. Geena Davis is terrific in this role as the confident older sister and in some ways mother-hen to the rest of the girls on the team.
The supporting cast is excellent. Practically everyone knows of Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell’s performances, and they are very good as two tough New Yorkers. Madonna gives a great performance in a dance routine in a roadhouse (with Laverne & Shirley‘s Eddie Mekka) and Rosie is believable as her close friend, which they weren’t before this film. There are great secondary stories showing what a good time it was for all of these women, despite what was going on in the world at the time. One woman (Ann Cusack) never knew how to read, not even her own name to learn what team she’d been chosen for. Later on, she is shown learning to read while on the bus. Even Marla manages to find someone and break out of the painfully shy shell she was depicted within the beginning of the film.
Lori Petty was the surprise for me. I hadn’t seen her in anything before this, and reading her credits this is probably the best role she’s had in her career. I look at her against the backdrop of my nine-year-old who also seems to live in her older sister’s shadow and I can really see the similarities. She nailed the part perfectly as I didn’t once think she doesn’t love her sister, but rather that it would be nice just to be the one on top for a change; the one people notice first.
There are beautiful shots against a variety of backdrops during the film. I thought the cinematography could have been a bit better as some of the shots seem to be pale, rather than rich and vibrant the way I’m used to seeing coloration on the big screen, and I don’t believe this is due to fading. The soundtrack is absolutely wonderful. As Director Penny Marshall describes it, she went through her Rolodex and got artists such as Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Manhattan Transfer to contribute to the film. It’s done quite well and seems perfect for the time period. Hans Zimmer wrote the score, and he’d never seen a baseball game in his life. However, that might be to the benefit of the film as it generally seems to feel like it’s part of the story, rather than about the sport itself.
I also thought the selection of actresses to portray the older versions of the women was excellent. Initially, I was sure Lynn Cartwright was actually Geena Davis in makeup until the credits rolled. They did a voice-over for her role, but the other older actresses all used their own voices and did a terrific job of capturing the essence of their younger characters, now reuniting for their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
The extras on the DVD are great and this has been made into a two-disc set because of it.
Commentary with Director Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Tracey Reiner, Meagan Cavanaugh – This gives a lot of insight into the filming of the picture and into how certain things came about. All of the actresses had to be able to play ball – there were no doubles, so the auditions involved a “try out” as well. Some of the bruises shown are real bruises, and some of the actresses actually broke fingers while making this film.
Penny Marshall seems to mumble a lot, but I think that’s just the way she talks as her daughter (Tracey Reiner who portrays “Betty Spaghetti” in the film) comments that she had to act like a “translator” for a lot of the shoot because the other cast and crew would ask her “what did she just say?”
Deleted Scenes – These were really excellent. In the commentary, Marshall states that this was originally a 4-hour film, then it got cut way down. The deleted scenes come in at about 30 minutes of additional footage, so there are many scenes that were lost forever. The scenes come with a Director’s introduction by Penny Marshall as well.
– Owners meeting where Garry Marshall’s character is trying to sell the idea of girls playing baseball to the other owners
– Kit and Dottie discussing trying out on the farm
– Kit, Dottie and Marla eating with (Jon Lovitz) on the train
– Longer scene of Jimmy meeting with Garry Marshall for the manager’s job
– John Lovitz telling Babe Ruth story
– Jimmy Dugan being woken up in the dugout after the game
– Marla receives a new glove from her Dad
– Beauty queen twirls the bat like a baton
– Marla sends money back to her Dad for the glove
– May and the girls hanging out after the bus driver quits
– Longer scene of Miss Cuthbert being sick, makes it clear that Jimmy knew the girls were sneaking out
– Kit being propositioned in the roadhouse
– Longer scene of Marla being dragged out from the bar
– Jimmy hitting balls off the pitching machine
– Marla comes back on Racine and she’s pregnant
Documentary – Nine Memorable Innings
Filmographies (Bios) Cast & Crew
Music video – Madonna’s Used To Be My Playground
Previews – Brian’s Song, A League of Their Own (actually theatrical trailer), The Natural
I highly recommend the film as it shows women did have some choices, and not to be the wilting violets often shown in other pictures. I always thought I was born too soon and would have thrived a few years later, being able to play Little League as I wanted to instead of standing at the backstop watching my friends play. Now I wonder if I was just born too late.