Academic journal article Nine

[61.Sup.*] & the Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. (Film Reviews)

Academic journal article Nine

[61.Sup.*] & the Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. (Film Reviews)

Article excerpt

[61.sup.*]. HBO Original Films. 2001. Director, Billy Crystal; producer, Robert Colesberry; editor, Michael Jablow; photography, Haskell Wexier; writer, Hank Steinberg. Starring Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane. 2 hrs., 10 min.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. The Ciesla Foundation. 1998. Director, producer, writer, Aviva Kempner; editor, Marian Sears Hunter. i hr., 35 min.


The long-awaited and highly publicized HBO original movie 61* is obviously a labor of love for Billy Crystal. He has rhapsodized in City Slickers, Ken Burns's Baseball, and Baseball When It Was A Game III about how he began his love of the game at age eight when his father took him to Yankee Stadium, where he saw Mantle hit a herculean homer off the facade and he later had his program signed by the Yankee star. Over the ensuing years, Crystal cultivated a friendship with his hero, buying at an auction Mantle's glove and a seat from old Yankee Stadium, which Mantle inscribed: "Billy, wish you were still sitting here and I was still playing." (1)

As Crystal has stated in The Making of 61 (*), the preparation for this movie began on that splendid day when he first saw Mantle in action; he wanted to recapture the excitement of that occasion and to re-create the season of 1961 as closely and as lovingly as possible. In order to do so, he took careful steps to get it right. He "tried out" 1,600 extras as players for the various teams depicted in the movie; he turned the meager baseball skills of Barry Pepper (Mans), who had never played any organized baseball, and the nonexistent skills of Thomas Jane (Mantle), who had never even thrown or held a ball, into picture-perfect facsimiles of their respective roles by entrusting them for eight weeks to Reggie Smith, former Red Sox and Dodger switch-hitting slugger, who operates an instructional school. The results are amazing: no slo-mo action, no awkward Gary Cooper and William Bendix swings, no weak throws la Tony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall. Jane fluidly demonstrates the broad-backed muscular swing of Mantle , and Pepper captures Maris's smooth, slightly uppercut swing and graceful follow-through with his right hand on the bat and the left arm extended across his chest, his back arched, and his head raised so that he can follow the majestic flight of the ball.

Crystal used a one-inch-square chip of paint from his souvenir seat to recreate the unique green color of Yankee Stadium, before its renovation in the seventies, in the old blue and white Detroit Tiger Stadium, which served as the replica of the "House that Ruth Built." Digital enhancement was used to put the imposing triple-tiered facade on the double-decked Tiger Stadium. And to show that this was truly a personal vision, Crystal cast his daughter Jennifer Crystal Foley as the young Pat Mans and employed another daughter, Lindsay, as assistant editor. By taking such pains to effect his dream project, Crystal ably carried out the mission Mantle had given him when he remarked, "If they ever do a movie about me, I want you to do it, you little son of a bitch, you know more about me than me."

[61.sup.*] is a historical re-creation of the great home run race between the "M and M" boys, who for most of that season threatened to break the most hallowed record in baseball--the 60 home runs the mighty Ruth slammed for the 1927 Yankees, one of the greatest teams ever. To complicate the situation, 1961 was the season when the American League expanded to ten teams and from 154 games to 162. Commissioner Ford Frick, a longtime champion of Ruth, for whom he had served as ghostwriter, declared that the record would remain unbroken if they did not surpass Ruth's total in 154 games. The sluggers were locked in a close duel with each other and for the record until near the end of the season when Mickey, as was his wont, got hurt and finished with 54 homers. Roger reached 59 in 154 games and hit his 61st in the last game of the season. …

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