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    Off The Wahl: Take in a Game

    By Jan Wahl–

    Summer and sports … they work together when it’s a great movie, documentary, or series. From humor to heartbreak, we can escape and enjoy these stories of spirited personalities and exciting competition. There are terrific tales concerning every sport, but let’s grab some hot dogs and crackerjack (it’s still out there) and begin with baseball.

    How was Jean Stapleton, the actress who was Edith Bunker in All in the Family, discovered? She was in one of the best baseball movies ever: Damn Yankees (1958). This is campy fun, with often hilarious songs and a true anthem for our times, “You’ve Gotta Have Heart.” An aging Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil to beat the Yankees and become a powerful young player. Tab Hunter, who wrote one of the best autobiographies about Hollywood, is convincing as the star player who is seduced by the devil’s disciple Lola (Gwen Verdon.) But it is the devil himself (Ray Walston), who brings laughs to the Faustian story, along with music that will leave you as joyful as a home run. It’s on DVD and YouTube.   

    Eight Men Out (1988) is a trip back to 1919 and to the raw game and its tough, tough players. Brilliant director/writer John Sayles uses rich period detail and perfectly cast actors to give us baseball’s first national scandal. Did the underpaid players accept bribes to deliberately lose the World Series? John Cusack, David Strathairn, and Charlie Sheen lead the strong cast, with great character actors showing up as gangsters, thugs, and politicians. After this, check out Sayles’ other films; he is a director who tells social issue stories in powerful ways. The film is available on Amazon Prime.

    One of my favorite documentaries ever made concerns a baseball player who knocked it out of the park as a humanist, fighter, and gutsy Jewish guy. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (2000) is about the extraordinary player who transcended religious prejudice to become an American icon. Hammerin’ Hank’s accomplishments rivaled those of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during the Golden Age of Baseball. Written, produced, and directed by Aviva Kempner, this film reveals a man of tremendous courage and talent. Follow this with a 2010 documentary narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. Both are available on YouTube.

    There is just no way to discuss great baseball movies and not include 1989’s Field of Dreams. People tell me they still have not seen this remarkable movie, which was based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe. An Iowa farmer hears ghostly voices asking him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. James Earl Jones, Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan, and Ray Liotta speak the words of one of the most beautiful scripts ever put on film (writer/director Phil Alden Robinson.) This uplifting mythic fantasy is about chasing the dream, reconciling the child with the adult, and finding redemption. Oh yes, baseball shows up, too! It’s available on Netflix.

    There are others that fit in perfectly here: A League of Their Own, The Natural, The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings, Bull Durham … the list goes on. See you in the stands!               

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KCBS AM & FM and other media outlets. To read and listen to her reviews for KCBS, go to: https://kcbsradio.radio.com/authors/jan-wahl For more info about her remarkable life and career: http://www.janwahl.com/ Check out her entertaining and informative videos at http://sfbaytimes.com/


    Spotlight Film for SF Pride 50: Personal Best (1982)

    By Jan Wahl–

    Mariel Hemingway costars with real life track star Patrice Donnelly in this exciting, yet tender, story of two women finding each other during intense competition. A young track and field athlete goes for the Olympic trials, meeting a far more experienced runner and becoming friends and lovers along the way. 

    At the time of release, film critics Siskel and Ebert named this movie one of the five best films of the year. Ebert wrote that it was “one of the healthiest, sweatiest celebrations of physical exertion I have ever seen.” Robert Towne’s movie has remained a classic, though it was considered radical at the time. The risks, cares, and rewards in this film give us the joy and challenges of a relationship built on a dream. 

    Published on July 16, 2020