Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

PG | 96-98 mins | Drama | August 1973

Director:

John Hancock

Writer:

Mark Harris

Cinematographer:

Richard Shore

Editor:

Richard Marks

Production Designer:

Robert Gundlach

Production Companies:

BTDS Partnership, ANJA Films
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HISTORY

While the opening credits for actors Michael Moriarty, Robert De Niro, Vincent Gardenia and Phil Foster list their respective positions on the team--pitcher, catcher, manager and coach--the end credits only list their characters' personal names. The film opens with voice-over narration by Michael Moriarty as his character, pitcher "Henry Wiggen.” Henry admits that he dislikes his roommate, catcher "Bruce Pearson," whom he knows has a terminal illness. In addition, Henry's voice-over intermittently explains the emotional state of the team, including the fact that the team's bickering and "ragging" is diminishing their chances of excelling. All members of the team, the New York Mammoths, refer to Henry as “Author” throughout the film because of his journal writing, while Bruce calls him "Arthur,” having no understanding of the nickname. The end credits acknowledge the cooperation of the City of New York and the following baseball teams: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies.
       The title of the film comes from a line in the traditional cowboy song "The Streets of Laredo (The Cowboy’s Lament)": "Beat the drum slowly, play the fife lowly." Replacement catcher “Piney Woods” sings the somber song in the locker room after the rest of the team has learned of Bruce's terminal illness. The film is based on the novel Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, who also wrote the film's screenplay. As noted in the NYT review, the film closely follows the plot of the 1956 novel.
       According to a 25 Sep 1961 Publishers Weekly article, the novel was first optioned by the Theater Guild, then by David Merrick, who ran ... More Less

While the opening credits for actors Michael Moriarty, Robert De Niro, Vincent Gardenia and Phil Foster list their respective positions on the team--pitcher, catcher, manager and coach--the end credits only list their characters' personal names. The film opens with voice-over narration by Michael Moriarty as his character, pitcher "Henry Wiggen.” Henry admits that he dislikes his roommate, catcher "Bruce Pearson," whom he knows has a terminal illness. In addition, Henry's voice-over intermittently explains the emotional state of the team, including the fact that the team's bickering and "ragging" is diminishing their chances of excelling. All members of the team, the New York Mammoths, refer to Henry as “Author” throughout the film because of his journal writing, while Bruce calls him "Arthur,” having no understanding of the nickname. The end credits acknowledge the cooperation of the City of New York and the following baseball teams: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies.
       The title of the film comes from a line in the traditional cowboy song "The Streets of Laredo (The Cowboy’s Lament)": "Beat the drum slowly, play the fife lowly." Replacement catcher “Piney Woods” sings the somber song in the locker room after the rest of the team has learned of Bruce's terminal illness. The film is based on the novel Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, who also wrote the film's screenplay. As noted in the NYT review, the film closely follows the plot of the 1956 novel.
       According to a 25 Sep 1961 Publishers Weekly article, the novel was first optioned by the Theater Guild, then by David Merrick, who ran into problems with script and casting. After William Gibson and Arthur Penn asked Harris to create an adaptation for film, but did not produce a film from his drafts, Merrick optioned the novel again. A 31 Jul 1963 Var news item stated that Jack Brodsky and Nat Weiss' Horatio Booth Productions and Robert Rossen's Centaur Productions planned to make a version of the novel slated to roll in 1964, but the film was not made, and novel rights were subsequently bought by Maurice Rosenfield, according to a 17 Dec 1972 NYT article. Rosenfield, a well-known attorney specializing in First Amendment cases, successfully defended comedian Lenny Bruce against obscenity charges in a 1964 Illinois Supreme Court case. Bang the Drum Slowly marked the first feature length drama for director John Hancock, who had directed the 1971 horror film Let's Scare Jessica to Death (see below) and produced the 1970 Oscar-nominated short subject film “Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet.”
       As noted onscreen, baseball teams and players were fictionalized and baseball sequences were filmed in New York, at Yankee and Shea Stadiums. Location shooting also included Clearwater, Florida. According to a 30 Sep 1973 NYT article, the scene in which a tarp is pulled over the field at a rained-out game shows a Washington D.C. field; however, when the field is shown again, it is Yankee Stadium. Bruce's illness is Hodgkin's disease, a blood cancer that at the time was most often terminal; today, however, because of advances in treatment, it is not considered terminal.
       Bang the Drum Slowy was the last film for character actor Patrick McVey (1910--1973), who died on 11 Jul, shortly before the film opened. A modern source adds Frederic C. Weiler to the cast.
       Vincent Gardenia received a 1973 Oscar nomination for Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as manager "Dutch Schnell." Harris' novel was also made into a teleplay by the same title that was broadcast on the CBS network in 1957 starring Paul Newman and Albert Salmi. A 27 Aug 2004 DV article stated that Gary Goodman had bought the rights to the novel and planned a remake of the film, but this film has not been produced. The novel was also adapted for the stage by Eric Simonson, who also directed for its Evanston, IL opening on 14 Jan 1992. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Aug 1973
p. 4615.
Cine Revue
7 May 1987.
---
Daily Variety
3 Aug 1973.
---
Daily Variety
27 Aug 2004.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 1973
p. 3, 17.
Los Angeles Herald Express
29 Aug 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1973.
---
New York Times
31 Jul 1963.
---
New York Times
17 Dec 1972.
---
New York Times
27 Aug 1973
p. 35.
New York Times
2 Sep 1973
Section II, p. 7.
New York Times
30 Sep 1973
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
6 Jan 1974
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
20 Jan 1974
Section II, p. 1.
Newsweek
10 Sep 1973.
---
Publishers Weekly
25 Sep 1961.
---
Time
3 Sep 1973.
---
Variety
31 Jul 1963.
---
Variety
15 Aug 1973
p. 12.
WSJ
24 Aug 1973.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Rosenfield production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set const
Prop man
Prop man
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orig score comp, cond and addl mus arr
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd tech
Sd tech
Sd tech
Sd re-rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup & styling
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Baseball adv
Prod crew
Prod crew
Prod crew
Prod crew
Prod crew
Prod crew
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Exec gopher
Admin staff
Admin staff
Admin staff
Admin staff
Public relations
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris (New York, 1956).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Bang the Drum Slowly," music by Stephen Lawrence, lyrics by Bruce Hart, from "Streets of Laredo," traditional
"Look Before You Weep," music and lyrics by Orville Stoeber.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Best
Release Date:
August 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 August 1973
Los Angeles opening: 29 August 1973
Production Date:
Summer 1972
Copyright Claimant:
BTDS Partnership
Copyright Date:
13 July 1973
Copyright Number:
LP42702
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Movielab
Duration(in mins):
96-98
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23652
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Henry Wiggen, the smooth-talking pitcher of the New York Mammoth baseball team, rooms with catcher Bruce Pearson, a dim-witted and uncouth country boy who chews tobacco and wears a greasy pompadour. Although initially disdainful of Bruce because he is an average player, Henry softens when Bruce confides that he is dying of Hodgkin's disease, a blood cancer, and wants to keep his illness a secret, at least for the season. Before spring training, Henry accompanies Bruce to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, then on to visit Bruce’s parents in Georgia, where Henry’s wife Holly joins them. When they return to the hotel in which the team is lodged, manager Dutch Schnell, concerned that Henry is showing unexplained interest in Bruce, demands to know the details of their trip together, but Henry easily outwits Butch. Before the season begins, Henry, having heard a rumor that Bruce is being fired, surprises Butch and the team’s two owners when he accepts a lower contract figure on the condition that Bruce be allowed to play on the team for the entire season. Dutch accepts Henry’s terms but questions his motive, sarcastically suggesting that the two are lovers. Back in the hotel room, Henry, who sells the players life insurance and runs a card racket, suggests that Bruce fake confidence in order to bluff the other team. When Henry tells Bruce that he will remain on the team for the season, Bruce’s childlike glee fills Henry with satisfaction. Meanwhile, call girl Katie, knowing of Bruce’s prognosis, agrees to Bruce’s naïve marriage proposal on the condition that she be named as his life insurance beneficiary. When Bruce begs him to change the policy, Henry stalls ... +


Henry Wiggen, the smooth-talking pitcher of the New York Mammoth baseball team, rooms with catcher Bruce Pearson, a dim-witted and uncouth country boy who chews tobacco and wears a greasy pompadour. Although initially disdainful of Bruce because he is an average player, Henry softens when Bruce confides that he is dying of Hodgkin's disease, a blood cancer, and wants to keep his illness a secret, at least for the season. Before spring training, Henry accompanies Bruce to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, then on to visit Bruce’s parents in Georgia, where Henry’s wife Holly joins them. When they return to the hotel in which the team is lodged, manager Dutch Schnell, concerned that Henry is showing unexplained interest in Bruce, demands to know the details of their trip together, but Henry easily outwits Butch. Before the season begins, Henry, having heard a rumor that Bruce is being fired, surprises Butch and the team’s two owners when he accepts a lower contract figure on the condition that Bruce be allowed to play on the team for the entire season. Dutch accepts Henry’s terms but questions his motive, sarcastically suggesting that the two are lovers. Back in the hotel room, Henry, who sells the players life insurance and runs a card racket, suggests that Bruce fake confidence in order to bluff the other team. When Henry tells Bruce that he will remain on the team for the season, Bruce’s childlike glee fills Henry with satisfaction. Meanwhile, call girl Katie, knowing of Bruce’s prognosis, agrees to Bruce’s naïve marriage proposal on the condition that she be named as his life insurance beneficiary. When Bruce begs him to change the policy, Henry stalls by claiming that his office demands more paperwork. As the season opens, the Mammoths appear to have the skill needed to win the pennant, but divisiveness among the players holds them back. The team members aim their derision at the gullible Bruce, mocking his clothes, manners and playing. Unable to understand Henry's sudden concern for Bruce, Dutch continues to question Henry. When Henry claims their trip to Minnesota was for hunting, Bruce merely nods in agreement, but soon Henry is forced to spin more elaborate tales in order to keep Bruce’s secret. Meanwhile, Bruce, who is usually poor at bat, plays consistently better, making several base hits. In an effort to cheer Bruce, Henry invites him to play T.E.G.W.A.R., his card racket, with unsuspecting fans in the hotel lobby. Team coach Joe Jaros, who runs the game with Henry, refuses to play with Bruce, complaining that his slow wit will ruin the racket. During a pre-game pep talk, Dutch delivers a rousing speech, saying that they will be unable to catch the opposing team, which he refers to as flies, unless all their fingers are working in unison to squash the little fly. Dutch states that they are too busy insulting each other to be capable of beating their opponents, but his warnings goes unheeded. Henry then approaches player Goose, who is the most antagonistic toward Bruce, and offers to help him financially if he will stop harassing Bruce. To win over Goose, Henry reveals Bruce’s condition. While Bruce continues to improve on the field, the pressure of keeping the secret hampers Henry, who threatens to expose Katie’s call girl service to stop her scheme to marry Bruce. After being pulled from an August game, Henry flies into a rage in the locker room, smashing every object he can find out of frustration and sadness. Days later, hotel operator Tootsie unknowingly reveals to Henry that Butch and the owners have discovered Bruce's illness. Going straight to Butch’s office, he watches helplessly as Butch calls in catcher Piney Woods to replace Bruce if he should die mid-season and ex-star catcher Red Traphagan, to coach. In the locker room during a rainout, Piney sings “Bang the Drum Slowly,” a lament about a cowboy’s death, while the players look at Bruce, now aware of his illness. The team rallies around Bruce that night, joining him in his room for a night of drunken celebration, during which Joe invites Bruce to join their T.E.G.W.A.R scam. Only Katie has no sympathy for the dying man and hangs up on him when she finds he has not changed his insurance policy. Having put petty squabbles aside, the team pulls ahead. On the last game of the season, Henry, seeing Bruce’s waning strength, warns the coach and others. After Bruce fails to see the direction of a pop fly, a baseman runs in to catch it, a play that wins the game. When Bruce stares on blankly, oblivious to the team rejoicing the win that places them in the pennant series, Joe and Henry pick up his hat and glove and escort him off the field. Shortly after, Red, Joe and Henry bring Bruce his tobacco and belongings at the hospital, where Bruce is checking out. When Henry takes Bruce to the airport to return home to Georgia, Bruce vows to be back in the spring, but they both know they will not see each other again. As Bruce boards the plane, he asks Henry for the series scorecard. That winter, Henry is the only team player to attend Bruce’s funeral. Learning humility through Bruce’s death, Henry vows that he “rags nobody” from now on. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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