“Bang the Drum Slowly” is generally considered to be one of the finest baseball movies ever made, and it’s one I’ve been hearing about for years. I’d never seen it from start to finish, which is why I added it to my “bucket list” several years ago. Thanks to NetFlix, I finally watched this movie from start to finish on Sunday and officially scratched it off my bucket list.
“Bang the Drum Slowly” is a baseball-themed movie that was released in theaters on Aug. 26, 1973. Directed by John D. Hancock, the cast included Robert De Niro, Michael Moriarty, Danny Aiello, Selma Diamond and Vincent Gardenia. This movie is relatively short, coming in at just 96 minutes long.
For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, it’s about a major league catcher named Bruce Pearson (portrayed by De Niro), who plays for the fictional New York Mammoths. He’s diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin’s disease, but remains on the team after their star pitcher, Henry Wiggen (played by Moriarty), agrees to a deal that requires that Pearson catch for him. At first, no one on the team knows that Pearson is sick, although some suspect something’s not right, and he continues to play until his disease prevents him from finishing the season.
You’ll find this baseball movie on a number of “best of” lists, which is one of the reasons I wanted to watch it. In April 2003, Sports Illustrated magazine ranked it No. 11 on its list of Top 50 Sports Movies of All Time. In May 2012, one of my favorite Web sites, The Art of Manliness, included “Bang the Drum Slowly” on a list called the “15 Best Baseball Movies.”
“Bang the Drum Slowly” reminded me a lot of another classic sports movie, “Brian’s Song,” which was about an NFL player who dies from cancer. Both of these movies are considered classics, but the biggest difference between the two is that “Brian’s Song” is based on a true story, while “Bang the Drum Slowly” is fictional. I watched “Brian’s Song” for the first time in August, and it’s as good as or better than “Bang the Drum Slowly.”
I was also interested to learn that the “Bang the Drum Slowly” is based on a novel by the same name written by Mark Harris. First published in 1956, this novel was the second in the series of four novels that followed the fictional career of Wiggen. Like the movie, the book is also considered a classic. In December 2002, Sports Illustrated ranked the “Bang the Drum Slowly” novel No. 14 on its list of "Top 100 Sports Books of All Time.” Next year, I plan to add this novel to the next edition of my bucket list because if the book is better than the movie, I’ve got a lot to look forward to.
In the end, how many of you have seen “Bang the Drum Slowly”? What did you think about it? What other baseball movies would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.