Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A League of Their Own completely reverses the errors of Jonathan Demme's failed
Swing Shift, another film about
what women did in WW2 when their husbands were at war. It's a great entertainment that succeeds
against all odds, and perhaps (think about this one) the best movie ever about baseball.
Normally a shrewd director of forgettable comedy, Penny Marshall assembles a dream cast in a
story that seems to have set them all on fire. Geena Davis and Lori Petty make the "competing
siblings" gag really work for the first time and Tom Hanks goes from gloriously gross to warmly
reasonable. Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell must really have believed in the script, as they shine
in secondary roles.
Dairy workers and sisters Dottie and Kit (Geena Davis and Lori Petty) are scouted by
Capadino (Jon Lovitz) for a new Women's baseball league to replace the national game shuttered by
the war. For most of the girls including Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell)
the league is an opportunity of a lifetime, and for unattractive star player Marla Hooch (Megan
Cavanagh) it's a godsend. Chocolate baron Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) puts exec Ira Lowenstein
(David Strathairn) in charge of making the league work, even though he intends to mothball it the
moment the men can come back to play. Alcoholic ex-majors star Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is hired
Dottie and Kit's team, and it takes some time for him to rise from his drunken stupor to find an
interest in the new arrangement. For the women players aren't just "girls" - their spirit and
teamwork embody the best in the game of baseball.
Well, maybe Eight Men Out is the better film about baseball, but A League of Their Own is
still in a category of its own. It's a bright and positive story that neither dumbs down nor overly
sentimentalizes its subject, my two main complaints about the genre of sports movies.
My normal attitude about this kind of picture is encapsuled in an early scene in
(Sunset Blvd.) When writer
William Holden's studio pitch about PT boats doesn't go over, the producer asks him if the same
story could be turned into a Betty Hutton vehicle about a girl's softball team ...
In her commentary, director Penny Marshall show a lot of pride in her largely female cast. When
the male writers' credits show up, her voice takes on a strange tone as she says she couldn't get
female writers to do the job.
It helps that A League of Their Own isn't soaked completely with a feminist point of view.
It presents its points about sex inequality in the 1943 world and then moves on. Just about the
only forced bit is a welcome-enough moment when an observer, a
black woman, tosses back an errant ball like a big-league player, reminding us that even as these
few women are getting their shot at equality, there was still a long way to go to reach anything like
In some other film that PC lesson would be unwelcome, but A League of Their Own has a liveliness
and spunk about it that invites our full participation. The Lori Petty and Megan Cavanagh characters
so desperately want to play that it's impossible not to root for them. The story maintains a constant
thread of comedy based in character. We get the feeling that the jokes are a lot more than just
whatever the writers thought was funny.
The odd situation of a girl baseball league creates a continuous string of problems. They're asked
to wear "showgirl" uniforms that cause them to tear up their legs when they slide. Grandstand
hecklers cause trouble. The wilder of the girls make a mockery of the chaperones and the "no men"
rules. One player brings her brat kid along. After the tyke's constant provocations, the best joke
in the picture is when Tom Hanks decks him with a tossed baseball mitt.
Hanks' disgustingly sloppy failed big leaguer provides a great male contrast to the idealistic female
players. He's at first an annoyance and an embarrassment, but he grows in stature in what should be a
sports-movie cliché. It's not because A League of Their Own doesn't
have Dugan redeem himself by any great act of character. He doesn't find God or realign himself overnight
so as to "earn" the heroine at the fadeout. Initially he helps to carry the grosser end of the comedy,
as in the spitting scenes and the "that's a lotta peein'" scene in the girl's locker room. The most
memorable clip from the show is his "there's no crying in baseball" moment, a speech that will
surely become a deathless quotable.
Madonna is a big surprise, as A League of Their Own is one of her few worthwhile film
appearances. She's used for comedy as the rowdiest of the players but is mostly another
good egg among the gals. She gets her center-stage bit in the roadhouse swing dance, an excitingly-shot
dance-action scene. Director Marshall obviously learned something from the extravagant but emotionally
dead dance number she acted in in Spielberg's 1941 - this scene really swings.
In the middle of it all is Geena Davis' Dottie, a wonderfully heroic portrait of womanus americanus.
She's an ace player participating almost against her will, as she's uninterested in fame or glory.
She has limitless tolerance for her aggressively competitive sister, yet doesn't sacrifice herself
to an exaggerated loyalty (the final out of the World Series is a bit ambiguous, admittedly). The
script also respects Dottie by not giving her some lame romantic conflict between her husband fighting
in Italy (Bill Pullman) and her new manager. She has enough raw talent to do showboat
stunts when the newspapers need something exciting, but she's no female Jim Thorpe;
A League of Their Own
emphasizes teamwork and the spirit of the game and doesn't make who actually wins the
series an all-important issue. Davis shows Dottie as having the resolve of a soldier while being
no less "feminine." The movie is about the wartime jumbling of sex roles, but ends up just having
positive things to say about people in general, when they're given a chance.
The best and fairest scene shows Davis' Dottie and Hanks' Jimmy Dugan sending out conflicting signals
to a confused batter - hit, or bunt? It's at a moment where Dugan finally takes some responsibility for
running the team. A political film would follow the feminist playbook and have Davis be right -
women are always right, you know, just watch any network TV program. A League of Their Own has
the brains to acknowledge that a fifteen-year big league veteran's coaching might really be superior
to a dairy league novice. Dugan is right, and Dottie realizes that back on the bench. Her victory is
shaming the manager into doing his job and joining the team. Scenes with this kind of evenhandedness
flatter our intelligence and make the writers and director of A League of Their Own look
Columbia TriStar's DVD of A League of Their Own replaces a disc from 1998. A comparison shows
it has a sharper transfer and much better colors. This is a two-disc
special edition with a lot of attractive extras.
Director Penny Marshall and several actresses contribute to the commentary. Ms. Marshall handles
the comments well enough, seemingly remembering what's important to her about the movie as she
goes along. To hear her, you'd think she had to be a stern disciplinarian to keep a lot
of rowdy female performers in line. Lori Petty (Tank Girl) has an unmistakable voice. She
comments on the hot wool uniforms and the wig she had to wear. At least it was built-in to her
baseball cap and therefore
easy to keep straight. Megan Cavanagh has no misgivings about the film's portraying her as almost
painfully plain (read: ugly). It's the cruelest part of the comedy but certainly true to the times.
The extras on disc two are laid out in a baseball motif. There's a big pile of deleted scenes that
include some interesting subplots like Marla Hooch's pregnancy, and a pass Jimmy Dugan makes at Dottie
that helps explain her sudden decision to leave at one point. One introductory scene with the Harvey
candy people was turned into a newsreel for the final film. Penny Marshall provides intros.
The docu is split up into 11 short segments, so don't forget to use the "play all" option. They're
all entertaining with Rosie O'Donnell and Geena Davis charming us and Lori Petty and others explaining
the interesting circumstances of filming. It's regrettable that guild rules force these DVD extras to
be broken up into smaller bites; this stack of shows would hold together as a unit a lot better
without the repeated interruptions of graphic opening titles - 11 times.
Disc two also contains a trailer for this show (that stresses the broadest jokes) and two other
baseball themed films, and a text filmography extra for many of the talent.
You really know that A League of Their Own has worked when Penny Marshall tacks on an elaborate
bookend structure (with an entirely new cast) to show the survivors of the Women's Baseball League
in 1992. Geena Davis' older double is such a perfect match, there's no trouble making the connection.
The film has a strong emotional resonance. I think appreciation for it will grow with the distance
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A League of Their Own rates:
Supplements: commentary with director and cast members, deleted scenes, docu, trailers
Packaging: two discs in Keep case
Reviewed: April 8, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.