Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1973. ANJS, Dibs Partnership, Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Mark Harris, based on his novel. Cinematography by Richard Shore. Produced by Lois Rosenfield, Maurice Rosenfield. Music by Stephen Lawrence. Production Design by Robert Gundlach. Costume Design by Domingo A. Rodriguez. Film Editing by Richard Marks. Academy Awards 1973. National Board of Review Awards 1973. New York Film Critics Awards 1973.
Touching film about the friendship between two baseball players on a major league team, something like Midnight Cowboy but without all the traumatic hardships. Upstanding and sensitive Michael Moriarty keeps a lid on the news when slovenly Robert De Niro finds out during a stay at the Mayo Clinic that he is dying of a terminal illness, even having De Niro’s position on their fictional New York team written into his contract to make sure that his friend stays employed for as long as he can still swing a bat. Their desire to keep the news a secret becomes a challenge as they continue through a season during which the entire team is rife with conflict between players and their impatient coach (Vincent Gardenia hamming it up like an adorable pro), who has to maintain order while trying to get to the bottom of the secret he has sniffed out between these guys. It’s not a superbly captivating drama, its conflicts are played out in a muted, sometimes slack manner, but the characterizations are all rich and the dialogue is intelligent. The film avoids sentimentality despite how very easy it would be to go there, making it all that much more moving when you finally get to the end. De Niro might have been easier to swallow as Georgia trash when the film was first released, well before he was established as the anti-hero of Scorsese’s epics.