Eight Men Out
Eliot Asinof's detailed book Eight Men Out illustrates how the system of American sports collapsed in 1919, the year the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. Filmmaker John Sayles worked on his script years before the 1988 film (or before he had the rights to make the film) as a labor of love. Sayles's adaptation proves one can make a historically accurate film in the day and age of artistic license. And what a story. Although many know about the "Black Sox," made famous--again--in the 1989 hit film Field of Dreams, the details of the saga are far less known. The center of Dreams, Shoeless Joe Jackson (portrayed correctly by D.B. Sweeney as illiterate and left-handed in Eight), is not the core of this film; it's ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte (Sayles favorite David Strathairn), who took the money, and third baseman Buck Weaver (John Cusack), who did not. The film fits nicely into Sayles's (Lone Star) strong suit: the ensemble drama. We are introduced to bickering owners, famous crooks, high-minded judges, lowlife gangsters, investigative reporters (played by Studs Terkel and Sayles himself), and, most of all, players who are at the breaking point when it comes to low salaries and degrading rewards. While some may feel the film is not as visceral as it should be, there is a great amount of verisimilitude when watching finely tuned athletes telling their bodies to play poorly--heartbreak on the nation's diamond. Beautifully detailed (like Sayles's previous labor-drama, Matewan), Eight Men Out gives us powerful lessons in which everyone lost: players, gamblers, and especially the fans who love the game.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
This enjoyable 1976 film by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) concerns the efforts of a barnstorming baseball team of African American players to work around the dominance of the Negro National League. Set in 1939, the swift, impressive, and entertaining troupe of personality-rich athletes easily make the viewer wistful for this level of spiritedness on a green field. While the story is a bit halting, the script intelligently reflects some of the difficulties and requirements of black players at that time to find success in the game. The excellent cast includes Billy Dee Williams, whose character is based on Satchel Paige, and James Earl Jones, whose part is suggestive of the tragic Josh Gibson, as well as Richard Pryor, Ted Ross, DeWayne Jessie, and Stan Shaw. Produced by Motown's old film division, the musical score, not surprisingly, is highly memorable.