Magazine article The New Yorker

The Old Ballgame; Dvd Notes

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Old Ballgame; Dvd Notes

Article excerpt

Though the silent films in "Reel Baseball" (Kino), a two-disk set of features and shorts made from 1899 to 1926, are of minor artistic value, they offer fascinating glimpses of the state of the game--and of the union--in that era.

The set is filled with such peculiarities as a sanitized revision of Babe Ruth's life, "Headin' Home," from 1920, starring the slugger himself in his first season with the Yankees; the nuanced pastoral drama "The Busher," from 1919, about a curveball-throwing farm boy who gets his chance in the big leagues and forgets the girl back home; and the 1914 "Hearts and Diamonds," starring the Falstaffian John Bunny, one of the biggest film-comedy stars before Charlie Chaplin, in the ludicrous tale of a widower who gets up an amateur team to win the heart of a baseball-crazed dowager. These films show how the game was played when the mitts were small and light enough to dangle from belt loops and the men and boys in the stands wore dark suits and ties.

Judging from the works in the box, the 1919 Black Sox scandal was the tip of the iceberg: story after story turns on gamblers' efforts to persuade players to throw games. …

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