Bang The Drum Slowly * * * 1/2

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Director: John Hancock.
Screenplay: Mark Harris.
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Robert DeNiro, Vincent Gardenia, Phil Foster, Ann Wedgeworth, Patrick McVey, Heather MacRae, Selma Diamond, Barbara Babcock, Tom Ligon, Danny Aiello.

In 1973, two films were released that featured two very different performances from a young Robert DeNiro. One was his first collaboration with director Martin Scorsese in “Mean Streets” and the other was “Bang The Drum Slowly“. However, despite the critical plaudits DeNiro received for the former, it’s was arguably this film that caught everyone’s eye beforehand. Either way, they both marked the arrival of, what would be, one of cinema’s finest performers.

Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty) is the star pitcher of a New York professional Baseball team. He’s the type of player that can name his price when it comes to contractual negotiations. On hearing the news that his friend (and surplus-to-requirements) teammate Bruce Pearson (Robert DeNiro) is terminally ill, Henry negotiates a contract that will keep Bruce in team and save him from being transferred. Henry’s intention is to give Bruce a memorable last season at the club.

On first appearances, this film comes off as a cheap TV movie with a music score that isn’t far from something as cheesy as “Little House on the Prairie“. Quite simply, the music is dreadful but the performances manage to transcend it’s dated approach. It’s interesting watching a young DeNiro before the heights of stardom and it’s easy to see that he always had the acting ability. There’s an innocence and lack of self-confidence to his character and he plays it wonderfully. This, however, adds to another problem in the film; his talents are not utilised as well as they could be. It’s Moriarty that takes the lead and although he also delivers a solid performance, he comes across a little expressionless at times. Despite both actors playing well, the close relationship between their characters is never explained and leaves it hard to fully connect with them or accept the events that take place. That being said, the film does still have a heart and a lightness of touch which help it overcome it’s faults. It’s not a story about a dying man but more a story about life and living it fully. It’s a story about integrity and the camaraderie and teamwork amongst men. It’s also somewhat of a sports film but that becomes secondary to the human relationships. With material of this nature, the film could easily fall prey to cliche but it manages to avoid the pitfalls which is thanks to it’s sensitivity and assured handling by director John Hancock. It’s an enjoyable film but left me feeling a little frustrated at DeNiro being so underused. I know he wasn’t a star at this time but when he’s as good as he is here, you just want to see more. What it does do though, is show that he’s always had a magnetic screen presence.

A touching and poignant drama that also manages to be an understated sports film. Not many films manage to achieve this balance and despite some flaws and it’s now dated appearance, this is still worthy of attention: if only, to witness the early stages of a very illustrious career.

Mark Walker

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20 Responses to “Bang The Drum Slowly * * * 1/2”

  1. Great review, as I’m a fan of De Niro I will give this one a watch.

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  2. This is one of the handful of DeNiro pictures that I haven’t seen. I’ve always intended on catching up with it. Solid review!

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    • Cheers Keith. If truth be told I expected more from this as I’ve been waiting over 10 years or so to get my hands on it. That being said, it’s still a good film. Just a little dated and more DeNiro would have been great.

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  3. Great review as always, Mark. I think that even if the film isn’t particularly memorable, De Niro always turns in great work.

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    • DeNiro’s great here Fernando but I must admit, I expected a bit more from the film. The critics seemed to adore it but I think they’re a little over-generous in their ratings. It’s not a bad film by any means but not quite as good as critics would have you believe. Thanks bro.

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  4. I’m not very well-versed on DeNiro’s work Mark, but it’s too bad this performance got overlooked as it sounds like he was excellent here.

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    • DeNiro was very good here Ruth. Admittedly, I’m a massive fan of his stuff and it was good to see him in such an early role. If your not well versed in DeNiro’s work, you’d be doing yourself a massive favour in working through his films. DeNiro for me is always worth the attention, even if the film is crap.

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  5. Yeah the film hasn’t dated very well, has it? I’ve seen pretty much everything De Niro’s done in the 70’s-80’s and I’d put this film somewhere toward the lower end of the spectrum as compared to his other work. Having said that it’s still a pretty good film.

    I did want to give particular mention to Michael Moriarity. This is probably his best film even though his best work was on TV’s Law & Order during the early 90’s which I consider the shows best years (Richard Brooks, Jill Hennessy, Steven Hill, Chris Noth, Jerry Orbach, S. Epatha Merkerson, Dann Florek and Moriarity). Sadly he was dismissed from the show due to erratic behavior on the set.
    His work in Who’ll Stop The Rain with Nick Nolte and the TV miniseries Holocaust with Meryl Streep was also worth checking out.

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    • First off Dave, it’s great to have you on board and thanks for commenting. I totally agree on your opinion of this film. It’s not bad but it’s not as great as the critics made out. As for Moriarty, I never really got into Law & Order but I’ll certainly check out those other suggestions. Thanks man.

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  6. Michael Moriarty’s best work was without doubt The Stuff. This is one of those films that I have heard the name of from time to time but really had no idea who was in it or what it was about. I have to say, it sounds like something worth watching. Thanks for the tip, Mark.

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  7. I’d never heard of this movie. I’ll probably give it a go. 🙂

    http://eclecticbooksandmovies.blogspot.com

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  8. sanclementejedi Says:

    Hmmm nice review Mark, somehow I have managed to never see this film. I think it might be the fact that in the film they play for the Yankees. 😉

    I will have to try and give it a watch…. recently saw Mean Streets again 🙂

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    • I may be wrong but I think the team in the film is fictional Adam. They do wear the same colours though. It’s worth a watch. I waited years to get my hands on it and with high expectations, it didn’t quite live up. Still, it’s a good film.

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