Friday Flicks: Bang the Drum Slowly


The offseason can be tough on baseball fans. Why not get your baseball fix through the Silver Screen? All offseason long, check out “Friday Flicks” at lunchtime for a baseball movie review. Want to suggest a movie for review? Comment below with the title.

Last week’s choice was a fictionalized account of the 1919 “Black Sox” team. This week’s flick is a melancholy baseball movie about a catcher battling Hodgkin’s Disease (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and the pitcher who became his best friend.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) is a feature-length version of a one hour program from 1956 that was part of The United States Steele Hour. Robert De Niro plays Bruce Pearson, a dim-witted catcher who is serviceable, but not fantastic. The movie begins with Pearson leaving the Mayo Clinic after learning of his terminal diagnosis. Accompanying Pearson on his visit to Mayo, and ultimately on Pearson’s journey through his final season, is Author Wiggen (Michael Moriarty), a pitcher whose star is rising.

Wiggen narrates the story, interjecting some background and personal reflections throughout the movie, but largely lets the story speak for itself. Early on, Pearson and Wiggen decide to keep the diagnosis a secret from their teammates, the coach and owners, and Person’s family. This requires some fancy footwork and provides a chuckle or two, but always present underneath what is happening is their secret. The audience is in on it, and the audience can feel the tension and the pain.

In many ways, the film is made for a Minnesota Twins fan. In addition to a number of Minnesota references, Wiggen’s narration about the success of a baseball team coincides with the need to do things the “Twins Way” and highlights the importance of having good “Clubhouse Guys” around. No, he never uses those terms, but he silently begs Twins fans to fill in the blanks. However, the film avoids sinking too deep into cliché, the somber undertone keeping the inevitable always near the surface.

Is it a hit? I give it a triple. The film drew me in early on. Wiggen (the real main character) was relatable and likable  It was difficult to avoid considering what I would do if I were in his shoes. I give it a triple, not a homerun, because I found the ending dissatisfying. I admit, I’m the type of person that prefers tidy endings and everything turning out “okay”, or at least as okay as possible. The ending might be closer to a real-life probability, but it left me wishing it ended on a more hopeful note.

Come back next week for a classic baseball comedy.