The 1976 Bad News Bears is one of my all-time favorite kid movies. Sure you’ll hear awful language, Walter Matthau driving around with a cooler of beer in his Cadillac, and other things that would garner this an NC-17 rating today. But it also has some of the best chemistry between characters, and some of the most realistic kids in a movie, ever. I didn’t see the remake and have no plans to. Maybe if I lose a bet. I liked Bad Santa, but this movie didn’t need to be remade. It’s re-played on Turner Classics so often that there’s no reason not to see it.
Walter Matthau is Buttermaker, a drunk who made it to the majors once, now hired to lead the worst team in Little League. The team was put together as a test case by a liberal politician, and he hires Buttermaker illegally when no one will coach the misfits. You’ve got a fat kid, a foul-mouthed little monster, a snotty-nosed little creature, a four-eyed math whiz, two little Mexicans who never speak a word of English, the only black kid on the League, and eventually a girl with a golden arm and a juvenile delinquent who wants to get into her pants.
The movie is one of the pinnacles of child acting. Nowadays the kids are all like the one in The Day of the Locust, you want to stomp them to death. Here they all reminded me of the little bastards I grew up with- bullies, nerds, slobs, and kids with language that would make the Brady Kids strangle themselves with their perfect blonde hair.
Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal are the foundation the movie is built on. He was Hollywood’s greatest curmudgeon, taking his Oscar Madison from the Neil Simon classic and turning it into a hilarious career. He could do drama too, just check out Charley Varrick. Tatum’s in a sad spot now, but she played some of the best child roles ever. This being one, Paper Moon being the obvious winner. He was dating her mom for a while, and taught her to pitch, before he dumped them. Now he wants her back to help his team, and they have to patch things up. The script doesn’t give us an easy win here– Coach Buttermaker can be a real S.O.B.
The movie tackled parents pushing kids too hard in sports 32 years ago, and it’s still a problem. The way the movie ends is one of my favorites. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. We like to say that platitude, but here in America we love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. Even if that winner is a lying, cheating bastard, we admire his gumption. That’s the American Way.
The movie hits all the right notes and no sour ones. You owe it to yourself to see it. One of the best sports movies ever, and definitely one of the best with a kid cast. You can skip the sequels and the TV show with Jack Warner, nothing touches the original.