baseball movies

Movie Review: The Babe (1992) – John Goodman is Perfect but the Story Isn’t

Written by John Fusco
Directed by Arthur Hiller

In a perfect bit of casting, John Goodman stars as Babe Ruth in this 1992 bio-pic.

The following incidents are based on true events that occurred between 1902 and 1935.

In 1902 George Herman (Babe) Ruth was labeled incorrigible and left at a “school for boys” by his father.  James Cromwell (who would become really famous in another “Babe” film) portrays Father Mathias at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys who first teach the young Mr. Ruth the art of baseball.

Like many of the athletes in later years, Ruth was signed to play professional baseball and little care was given to how this would affect his character.  Once he signed with the Red Sox, he seemed to be lost.  Inside, he was still the same incorrigible little boy looking for a father figure to guide him.  Babe’s attempts to put the Red Sox owner in that position faltered, except that it was through this time that he met Claire (portrayed by Kelly McGillis).  Claire was a wannabe actress in one of Mr. Frazee’s musicals when she met Babe.  Claire was not to be his first wife, however.  That honor went to a local waitress he had his eye on.  Helen (portrayed by Trini Alvarado) was quite pretty but shy and demure, not a good match for the effervescent, incorrigible and outgoing ballplayer.

Even drunk he could hit the ball further than most, and this was what propelled him to stardom without holding him accountable.  His life is tragic in a way as he is searching for something in life that he never quite seems to find, and hurts people along the way.

Goodman was a natural in the role for the incorrigible part.  He seems to be having as much fun as Babe probably had.  He also gets the little boy lost in a man’s body aspect down pat.  I can’t fault any of the casting in the film, really.

The main criticism is that this seems to focus too much on just the troubling aspects of Babe Ruth’s personal life.  His baseball career is hardly shown nor are some of the friendships he cultivated there.  Instead, his baseball career seems to be a few successes punctuated by mis-steps and brooding over his not getting the appreciation he believes he deserves.  Near the end, he spends a lot of time making his wishes known about being a manager, without having a clue as to why anyone would deny him that position.

Had the story been better balanced between his successes and Babe’s less than stellar moments, I think it would have been a fine film.  I don’t know if too much of the baseball career ended up on the cutting room floor in favor of the “truer” aspects of his personality as this already came in at nearly two hours, but that is what is missing from the film.  I can’t believe Goodman went into this character as nothing more than showing him as a womanizing glutton and drunk who happened to be able to hit a baseball pretty darn good, but that is often how I felt while watching this.

On DVD the picture is fine.  There aren’t a huge number of extras, but the couple of short films that the real Babe Ruth participated in are worth watching.  Otherwise, this is a baseball film that can be skipped for the most part. I really wish I could say it was better than it is because I like John Goodman a lot.  My feeling is that when push came to shove too much of the actual baseball scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.


• Babe Ruth Sport Featurette “Slide Babe Slide”
• Babe Ruth Sport Featurette “Just Pals”
• Theatrical Trailer

3 replies »

  1. A more complete, balanced portrayal of George Herman Ruth requires either a Ken Burns-like documentary or a miniseries, to be honest. Feature films have issues with biopics because either they must be “Gandhi” or “Chaplin”-length movies or, really, about one major incident in the life of such a complex person as Ruth.

    Focusing on the negative side of one person is probably one way to build conflict in a film; I have not seen this movie, but I think that the problem might be that the script had to find dramatic conflict and took the simplistic way out.

    Helpful review, Patti!