Friday, February 15, 2019

A Horse and It's Horn

This is my entry in the Angela Lansbury Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.

What would you do if you found out you were the last of your kind?  (Being "one of a kind" doesn't count.  It would be a fruitless endeavor to find another me...  And before you think I'm being egotistical, you are "one of a kind", too.)

Peter S. Beagle created an endearing classic in 1968 with a fantasy novel called The Last Unicorn.  It has had a profound effect on many who have read it.  The novel ranks in the top 20 of all-time classic fantasy novels.  The story of a unicorn seeking out the truth of whether sh is indeed the last of her kind could not fail to leave at least some impression on the reader.  After all, the need for companionship of one's own kind is the force that drives everyone to venture out beyond the four walls of their own home.

In 1982, the animated production company of Rankin/Bass, those purveyors of such animated Christmas gems such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas brought to the big screen an animated version of the beloved tale.  The studio only made a handful of full length movies, but with the exception of The Hobbit, I imagine you haven't seen or even heard of the full length movie oeuvre.  This one is one that deserves a look, however.

Angela Lansbury, although her role is rather brief, plays a decidedly more diabolical witch than you would imagine.  Miss Eglatine Price, in other words she is not (and kudos if you didn't have to google that to find out who I am referencing...)  But I imagine you could come up with a smattering of other characters she played who are even more diabolical (this is children's animation, remember.  Can't have Mrs. Iselin batting down the door.)

The Last Unicorn (1982):

In a forest, a group of hunters determine that the reason that they are unsuccessful on their hunt is that a unicorn must live in the forest, and her magical aura protects all that live in it.  As they ride away, one calls out a warning that she may indeed be the last of her kind. The Unicorn (Mia Farrow) begins to wonder if what she has heard is true.

A butterfly (Robert Klein) appears at her side and sings and tells crazy riddles, but the upshot is that he tells her that all the unicorns in the world have been herded away by a mysterious beast known only as The Red Bull.  She decides to go off and leave the forest in search of the other unicorns.

On her way, she is captured by an evil witch / sideshow entrepreneur named Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury).  Along with Ruhk (Brother Theodore), her henchman, an an incompetent wizard named Shmendrick (Alan Arkin), she gulls the public into believing she has a manticore (which is really an old lion), a satyr (which is really a decrepit chimp) and a Midgard Serpent (which is really just a plain ordinary snake).  She casts magic spells on the all, both to keep them in line, as well as to fleece the unsuspecting public.

She also keeps a real harpy, which she uses her magic to keep docile (but her magic is only so strong.)  When she finds the unicorn she captures it too.  She knows it is a unicorn, but most of the public would only see it as a white horse, so she casts a spell on the unicorn, giving it a magical horn so the foolish crowd will see what she wants them to see.

Eventually Schmendrick helps the Unicorn escape and accompanies her on her quest.  Along the way they also acquire a female companion, Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes).  The trio continue on until they reach the kingdom of King Haggard (Christopher Lee).  It turns out that Haggard is the actual keeper of the Red Bull and uses him to capture all the other unicorns.  As the trio approach Haggard's castle, the red Bull appears and immediately tries to corral the Unicorn.

Schmendrick saves the day (sort of).  He turns the unicorn into a beautiful woman and the Red Bull immediately loses interest.  (She's no longer a unicorn, so the bull thinks the unicorn disappeared.)  Upon reaching the castle, Schmendrick introduces themselves, calling the unicorn "Lady Amalthea".  Haggard's son Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges) is immediately smitten with Amathea.
The unicorn, now Amalthea, begins to suffer from the transformation as she gradually becomes more human and is beginning to forget not only that she was a unicorn, but what had brought her on this quest in the first place.  And she iso beginning to fall in love with the Prince, and eventually starts to think she'd prefer to remain human, even though it will means she would eventually die.

One must leave some things for the viewer to find for him or herself, so I won't tell you how it all turns out in the end.  Suffice to say this is an entertaining film for all ages.

Well, it will never look like a unicorn (or anything even halfway as beautiful), but this Plymouth will still get me home.  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Honky Tonk Romance

This is my entry in the "Meet-Cute" Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.

Unless you are close to my age, you probably don't remember the early 80's.  In the late 70's through to about 1985, country music took on a huge popularity.  I think it was a backlash to the disco era myself.  But the fact of the matter is that every so often a new fad in music takes hold, and people who might have been dismissive of the genre a few years before suddenly take an interest.  The era of "Studio 54" and the disco music fad faded away and the era of "Gilley's" (a legendary country music dance hall in Houston) stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Of course, country music had evolved over the previous 50 or so years (and it continues to do so).  My opinion is the so called "outlaw" generation had a lot to do with it. Formerly an unapproachable frontier, country artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and the Charlie Daniels Band were now cracking into the top 40 radio, bringing in new devotees who had previously dismissed the genre.  Since I had grown up listening to country music and had only recently started listening to pop music in 1978, I was a devotee of the genre going years back, but suddenly I wasn't the only "roper" in my clique.

In 1980, a friend of my mother from her high school showed up for a visit.  She and her 17 year old son were going to go see Urban Cowboy that afternoon and she invited me to go along.  The movie was the latest in a string of movies that had been addressing the popular music culture (and the third music oriented film that had starred John Travolta.  The previous two having been Grease and Saturday Night Fever.)  I went along even though, at that time, I was going through a phase of listening to pop music and wasn't particularly gung-ho about country.  The result of seeing the movie was that, instead of going to the disco I started going to the country music nightclub.

(As a side note:  Christmas 1981 was a memorable one. A few days before Christmas we were going shopping as a family.  My mother asked what I wanted for Christmas.  I said "A cowboy hat.  But it would have to be black.".  Christmas Day I got my black cowboy hat.  That in itself would have been memorable, but it turned out that she had bought it already.  And she thought I had seen it.  My mother and I didn't always see eye to eye, but she had me down pretty well that year...)

Urban Cowboy (1980):

Bud Davis (John Travolta) is packing for a trip to move from his small town of Spur to Houston, where he plans to get a job on the pipeline.  He says goodbye to his family, climbs into his pick-up truck and heads off into the wild blue yonder.  (BTW, there actually is a Spur, Texas.  When I first saw the movie I thought they made it up.  Red McCombs, former owner of the San Antonio Spurs professional basketball team was one it's former residents. It's in northwest Texas, making it about a 500 mile trip for Bud).

Bud arrives at the home of his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and Aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson), where he plans to stay until he can get settled.  Bob and Corene take Bud to Gilley's his first night in.

There Bud meets Steve Strange (played by James Gammon, but is based on the real co-partner of Gilley's), who hooks him up with two honky-tonk sweethearts.  But he also catches the eye of Sissy (Debra Winger).

Bud gets a job as a flunky on the pipeline, which the line boss says he's only getting because Bud's Uncle Bob is a well-thought-of worker with the company.  That's OK with Bud because it's at least a job.  Bud spends his days working and nights at Gilley's.  He eventually meets up with Sissy, which leads to the "meet-cute" first meeting.  Sissy spots Bud leaning against the bar and approaches him.

Sissy: "You a real cowboy?'
Bud: "Depends on what you think a real cowboy is..."
(Awkward pause)
Sissy: "You know how to two-step?"
Bud: "You bet.."
(Really long awkward pause)
Sissy: "Wanna prove it"
Bud: "OK."  (Bud is a bit dense, as you can see.)

Love blossoms and Bud and Sissy get married.  But Bud still has a lot to learn about modern women.  He thinks that there are certain things a guy can do that a girl just shouldn't do.  This includes riding the new mechanical bull that Gilley's installs.  But since Sissy is an independent woman, she goes behind Bud's back to start taking lessons on how to ride it.

 That in itself would be enough to send Bud into a funk, but there is also an added feature.  Wes Hightower (Scott Glenn), a former convict out on parole, has just gotten the job of operating the mechanical bull.  And jealous old Bud thinks Wes's motives are not entirely altruistic.  He thinks Wes  is trying to put the moves on Sissy.

When he learns of the subterfuge Sissy pulled, they break up and Bud moves on to Pam (Madolyn Smith).  Sissy, although still in love with Bud, decides to move on herself and shacks up with Wes.

The ultimate goal is that both Bud and Wes become entirely competitive as both enter a mechanical  bull-riding  contest.  (Wes is fired from his job, thus he can enter the contest, and he has experience since he was an expert at real bull-riding when he was in prison at the prison rodeo.)

Bud is the epitome of the anti-metrosexual, in my opinion.  He thinks women are inferior, often berating Sissy for trying things that he thinks should be a man's domain, including that of riding the mechanical bull.  Sometimes its hard to like Bud, but he is definitely a better catch than Wes, who is just a full blown jerk.  Bud does get a lesson from his uncle on how to be a real man, although you might wonder if it came along a little too late.

Will Bud win the contest?  Will Bud and Sissy make up and get back together riding off in the sunset?  If you don't know the answer, you are definitely a novice to romantic movies.  I have often professed I don't care for romantic movies, but Urban Cowboy (as well as The Princess Bride, another romantic movie I like) have a lot going for it on the side that make them interesting, even with the romance aspect.

Well, folks, time for me to do my own riding off into the sunset.  Any Sissy wanna-bes out there that want to go along?  Drive safely folks.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The "We Love Shakespeare" Tag

This are my answers to the We Love Shakespeare Week Tag hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy.

1. When and how did you first encounter Shakespeare's plays?

In jr. high.  We read "Julius Caesar".  And I vaguely remember going to see a performance of some play on a school outing.  (But I can't remember which one it was.)

2.  What are your favorite Shakespeare plays?  (Go ahead and list as many as you like!)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (see below for more clarification), Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew,  Hamlet, As you Like It, Twelfth Night.

3.  Who are some of your favorite characters in his plays?  (Again, list however many suits you.)

Puck is my favorite.  In case you are unfamiliar, Puck is one of the fairies in the woods in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".  In it Puck is a rascally character who, just for fun, casts a spell on Bottom, giving him the head of a jackass.  In 1992 I was working at a grocery store and in the lobby was one of those crane machines.  I went to work one day, with only $1.50 to my name until payday (still 2 or 3 days away).  I spotted a teddy bear in the machine which had a long-haired teddy bear which looked like a paint factory had exploded on him, streaks of green purple and yellow hair, with a bright red bow tie with white hearts on it.  I decided I must have it since it seemed a perfect metaphor for my personality.  It took me two tries to get it, but I got it, and it sits on top of my computer monitor to this day.  I of course named him "Puck".  Wish I had a picture of it to post here. If you are interested, I wrote a poem about him which you can view  here.

4.  Have you seen any of his plays performed, whether live or on film?

As stated above I saw one live in jr. high, but I don't remember which one.  That's all for live performance.  But I have watched a few films, including one with Brando as Marc Anthony in "Julius Caesar".  And one from a few years back of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"  with a hilarious portrayal of Puck by Stanley Tucci.

5.  Have you read any of his plays?

Yes.  In school (both secondary and college). Read "Julius Caesar",  "Macbeth" and "Hamlet".  Also "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on my own initiative.  And when I was researching material for a role-playing game, I got into "The Merchant of Venice" so I could incorporate parts of Shylock into the character I was playing.

6.  Share a dream cast for one of your favorite Shakespeare plays.

Do they all have to be living?  An all-star cast of both living and dead comedians doing "A Midsummer Night's Dream"  which would include Robin Williams as Puck, George Carlin as Oberon and Richard Pryor as Bottom

7.  What draws you to Shakespeare's plays?  (Language, themes, characters, the fact that they're famous, whatever!)

Mostly because I found out that a movie or TV show I liked derived some inspiration from it so I go to the source to see the parallels.  I read "The Tempest" because it was told to me that Forbidden Planet had a connection to it plot-wise.

8.  Do you have any cool Shakespeare-themed merchandise, like t-shirts or mugs or bookmarks, etc?  Share pictures if you can!

Does this count?

9.  How do you go about understanding his language?  (Do you prefer copies with translation notes, look things up online, or just read so much stuff written in Elizabethan English that you totally know what everyone's saying?)

I use Shakespeare for Dummies to help me figure it out.

10.  What are some of your favorite lines from Shakespeare?  (Maybe limit yourself to like ten, okay?)

How about just one?  But a really long one.

"If we are mark’d to die, we are enow  to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour.  God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.  By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; it yearns me not if men my garments wear; such outward things dwell not in my desires.  But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.  No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.  God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour as one man more methinks would share from me  For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!  Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,  That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse;  We would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us.  This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.  He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, and rouse him at the name of Crispian.  He that shall live this day, and see old age, will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, and say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’  Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’  Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words-  Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester- be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.  This story shall the good man teach his son; and Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered- we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."

 It's enough to make one want to charge the battlements.

Thus ends the tag.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Shakespeare as Television Writer

This is my entry in the We Love Shakespeare Week hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy.

William Shakespeare was one of the most prolific writers of the late 16th / early 17th century. (Or, if you are a conspiracy theorist, the unwitting stooge of Sir Francis Bacon.  Personally, I believe he wrote the plays credited to his name, however).  Over a span of just 25 years or so, he wrote 39 plays, as well as a slew of sonnets and poems.  (The guy must have suffered from insomnia...)

Shakespeare has made his way into the cultural zeitgeist of Elizabethan history.  Ask most people to name the most important person to have lived in that time period, and like as not, you'll get "William Shakespeare" in at least the top 5, if not the most commonly named persona.  He has had so many biographies written about him it is impossible for me to count.  (The best one I've read, by the way, is Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage, which, if not necessarily comprehensive, at a mere 200 pages, certainly won't tax your time and Bryson is definitely not boring.)

Shakespeare's plays have not only been performed on stage and in film, but there are several "modern" setting movies which use the theme from a play to tell a tale.  Akira Kurosawa, the legendary Japanese director, adapted at least two of the Bard's plays, moving the setting to feudal Japan;  Throne of Blood is a retelling of "Macbeth", and Ran was based on "King Lear".  In other realms, the classic science-fiction film Forbidden Planet derives much of its theme from the Shakesperean play "The Tempest". And most people know that West Side Story was basically a re-telling of "Romeo and Juliet". (And that's not all, just the ones I've seen...)

Shakespeare himself has also made his way into film media.  Best Picture Oscar winner Shakespeare in Love, featured Joseph Fiennes as the Bard.  A BBC television sitcom, Upstart Crow, features Shakespeare and his trials and tribulations as an aspiring writer.  And then there's the classic American TV show, The Twilight Zone, which during it's fourth season aired one of it's rare comedic outings with an episode called, appropriately enough, "The Bard"

Twlight Zone "The Bard"  (first aired May 23, 1963):

Meet Julius Moomer (Jack Weston).

Julius is a former streetcar conductor who desperately wants to be a television writer.  Except Moomer hasn't got the writing chops to pull it off.  (Given some of the more recent output on TV these days, maybe he was just born in the wrong century...)  Rod Serling in his opening monolgue to the show states that "if talent came at twenty-five cents a pound, [Moomer] would be worth less than car fare".  Anyway, Moomer tries and tries, and his agent, Gerald Hugo (Henry Lascoe) does his best to convince Moomer he ought to try some other outlet.  But Moomer isn't listening.

Fortunately for Moomer, Hugo has the patience of a saint, and agrees to take Moomer's script for an upcoming series on black magic.  But Moomer knows absolutely nothing about black magic.  So he goes to a bookstore where a ditzy baseball nut owner ends up giving him the only book on the subject she has in her shop.  The book, it turns out, is full of black magic spells.

Bumbling as he is (he substitutes feathers of a pigeon for the called for feathers of a falcon, sand from the local beach for sand from Egypt and the legs of an ant for the legs of a spider), Moomer is able to call up the flesh and blood body of William Shakespeare (John Williams ), complete with Hollywood's version of period attire..

Moomer has big dreams almost immediately.  Instead of getting Shakespeare to write the pilot for the black magic series, he instead gets him to write a full-fledged original teleplay.  Which of course becomes a potential television movie, because, after all, it wasn't Moomer's writing, it was Shakespeare's.  But Shakespeare becomes exasperated with Moomer who is taking all the credit for what was Shakespeare's original work.

Shakespeare decides he will go to the studio to see just how the rehearsal is progressing.  And he his shocked, to say the least.  Firstly, Rocky Rhodes (Burt Reynolds, who seems to be channeling Marlon Brando; and doing an excellent job of it, I might add) is not the young boy of 18 that Shakespeare had envisioned.

Neither is the "young"  girl who was to be his love interest.  And whole parts of the play have been subjected wholesale changes.  Not being used to such things, Shakespeare goes into a rant and storms off.  But not before giving Rocky a sock in the chops.

Of course, the play doesn't go off as planned.  but Moomer is not discouraged.  Wait until you see his next inspiration.

Drive home,safely, folks.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Momma and the Strangers Take the Train

This is my entry in the 3rd Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most influential film makers of his time.  Over a career of some 50 years, he directed around 70 or so movies and TV shows, and a lot of his stuff ends up on the list of best suspense films of all time.  He had a knack for throwing in red herrings that would fool audiences into going in the opposite direction of the eventual climax.  In a decently fair world he would have won an Oscar or two for his films,   but despite being nominated five times, he came away winless all five times.  (To be fair, Rebecca did win an Oscar for Best Picture, however).

Strangers on a Train (!951):

Did your mother ever tell you "don't talk to strangers"?  Perhaps she had someone in mind like Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker).  Bruno is just a wee bit off-kilter.  (OK, so he's pretty much full bull goose loony..)  Bruno is a psychopath and extremely malicious sort.  He's the sort of guy who would pop a child's balloon, just for the hell of it.

On a train, Bruno meets Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and starts up a conversation with him.  (Given that Bruno knows a hell of a lot about Guy and his private life, it's probably a good deduction that the meeting wasn't a coincidence.)  Bruno proceeds to tell Guy that he has a father that is extremely unsympathetic to Bruno's wants and desires and that he, Bruno, wishes his father were dead.  He also notes that Guy has a wife that is promiscuous and unfaithful to Guy and that Guy wants to divorce her so he can marry a senator's daughter.

Bruno has an idea that he thinks just might work out to the benefit of them both.  Each would murder the other's victim.  Any normal person would probably run screaming for the exit, but Guy is a bit naive.  He just thinks Bruno is a bit off, but not necessarily a danger and just humors Bruno.  But Bruno is dead serious.  And he thinks he has a deal with Guy just on those terms of swapping murders.  And it doesn't help matters when Guy is overheard threatening his wife

Bruno proceeds to tail the wife,  Miriam (Laura Elliot, who has also performed under the name Kasey Rogers), and corners her in a dark corner of a carnival where he strangles her.  Then he informs Guy that now he, Guy, must reciprocate on the deal and kill Bruno's father.

Although suspicion for Miriam's murder falls on him, no one really believes that Guy is guilty, but his alibi is a little faulty.  Mainly because he was on a train, but the one witness who can confirm their meeting on the train was drunk and can't remember a thing.   The police decide that without the alibi, there was plenty of time for Guy to have taken a different train and still have murdered his wife.  And of course, Bruno isn't going to confess.  Not only that but Bruno continues to show up in places where Guy is or calls him, in order to try to convince him or intimidate him into following through with what Bruno considers a deal.

If you have never seen a Hitchcock movie,  you are in for a treat.  Walker is excellent and Granger does a pretty decent job as the harassed victim of Bruno's insanity.  Strangers on a Train is in my top 5 Hitchcock films along with Rope, Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho (not necessarily in that order.)   Strangers on a Train also inspired the next movie in our double feature.

Throw Momma from the Train (1987):

A twist on the old Hitchcock story, Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) is a creative writing teacher and frustrated writer.  Frustrated because he is suffering from writer's block.  The writer's block stems directly from the fact that his ex-wife, Margaret (Kate Mulgrew) stole his book, the one he had spent several months writing, claiming it as her own and having it published in her name.

Owen Lift (Danny DeVito) is also a frustrated writer.  But writer is a generous designation, because apparently he can't write worth a crap.  He takes Larry's creative writing class, but he must either be as dense as a brick, or else he really has no talent whatsoever.  Owen is a bachelor who lives with his widowed mother (Anne Ramsey), a harridan who makes Owen's life miserable.

Owen keeps bugging Larry for advice, and just to get rid of him, Larry tells him to go study Hitchcock  (Alfred Hitchcock, who just happens to have a revival of one of his movies playing at the theater, Strangers on a Train).  Owen gets the idea that Larry is hinting at using the plot of the movie to solve his own problem with his mother and for Larry with his ex-wife, whom Larry has been heard shouting vociferously "I wish she were dead!".

Shades of Hitchcock!  Owen goes to Hawaii, where Margaret is now living and manages to apparently push her overboard on a cruise ship, then returns to tell Larry that he has completed his part of the bargain and now Larry must reciprocate by killing Owen's mother.  Since Margaret has disappeared, it seems apparent that Owen has indeed killed her, but suspicion falls on Larry, who has no real alibi, since he spent the entire not on the beach on a rock, with no witnesses.

Although Larry tries to get Owen to fess up, Owen is more than a bit dim-witted.  And child-like.  (One of the most revealing scenes in the character of Owen is when he shares with Larry his coin-collection.  Only the coins have no intrinsic value.  They are just coins that his father gave him when they went out together when he was a kid.)

At one point, however, Larry becomes frustrated enough that he decides to help Owen kill his mother.  Which leads to the hilarious scenes where they try to "throw momma from the train."  (Come on.  That can't be a spoiler... go back and read the title of the movie...)

Anne Ramsey deservedly was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the movie, which she lost to Olympia Dukakis for Moonstruck.  She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, which she also lost to Dukakis.  She did however win a Saturn Award for the role.  (She also won the same award for her role in The Goonies and if you haven't seen that you are missing out...)

The concept of "swapping murders" may not be entirely sound as a plot, but damn, it sure does make for a thrilling concept for a movie, whether done in all seriousness as Hitchcock did, or as a black comedy, as done by DeVito  (DeVito, by the way, has been hit or miss in his career, being nominated for both good awards and Razzies [on different occasions], but Throw Momma from the Train desrves a look, no matter how you feel about his other stuff.)

Well, folks, it's not a train, and I don't intend on riding with any psychopaths or dimwits, but it's time to fire up the old Plymouth.  Drive safely, folks.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Boys of Summer

This is my entry in the Box Office Jocks Blogathon hosted by Dubism and Return to the 80's

Second only to football, for me, is baseball.  Known as "America's pastime, baseball has a history that dates back to before any of you were even born.  And it even has enjoyed a heyday when even football was just the new upstart on the block.  Baseball was more commonly referenced in the 4o's and 50's on old radio shows which I think proves it being more popular and well-known than football in it's day.

You gotta admit that if you ask someone to name the greatest sports players of all time, many on the list will be baseball players.  Just off the top of my head I think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and from my own childhood and adult years, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roger Clemens, etc.

The baseball phenomenon may have diminished some in the years (I guess it depends on who you ask), but a baseball game is still the highlight of a kid's life.  Even an adult's life.  I, for one, never got to see a professional baseball game until I was in my 40's, but I can still fondly remember going to see my beloved Houston Astros take on the hated in-state rival Texas Rangers.  (This was when the Astros were still in the National League, so a match-up between the two was a rarity by comparison to today when they are both in the same division of the American League).

Major League (1989) and Major League II (1993):

In 1954 the Cleveland Indians won 111 games, a record that stood for 40+ years as the most wins for an American League team, and went to the World Series (where they lost to the New York Giants).  By 1960, the Indians had started on a downward spiral.  By 1989, the time of this movie, the Indians had been in a slump never finishing better than fourth in the AL.  (Note: For many of those years there were only two divisions in the AL,unlike the three in modern days, but still, 4th wasn't all that great, but at least they weren't in the "cellar" those years).

For the 1989 season, Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) the widow and new owner of the Indians, has a dynamic plan.  A spoiled rotten former Las Vegas showgirl, she wants to move the team to Florida.  But the city of Cleveland has a contract with the team and a move is pretty much impossible.  But she has found a clause in the contract that will allow her to declare it null and void if attendance for games falls below 800,000 for the season.  So she plans to get a bunch of losers and has-beens to be on the team, thus, hopefully finishing "dead last" in the league.

Rachel Phelps

To do this requires pulling in a bunch of misfits.  Along with an aging catcher, Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) , a pitcher whose better days were in the past, Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) and a pretty boy dilettante shortstop, Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen),  she has the team send out invitations to some pretty low rent candidates.  These include a voodoo enthusiast hitter named Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) and a pitcher with a wild and uncontrollable fast ball Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen).  Vaughn, by the way, has come from a prior position as a pitcher on the California Penal League.  He was arrested for stealing a car.  Added into the mix is another hitter who thinks more of his ability than he really has, Willie Mays Hays (Wesley Snipes).  To manage the team, they get a guy whose only experience has been coaching minor league teams, Lou Brown (James Gammon),

Roger Dorn, Rick Vaughn and Jake Taylor

(L-R) ???, Pedro Cerrano, Willie Mays Hays and Eddie Harris

With this lineup, the perennial seem destined to fulfill Rachel's dreams.  The early season plays a bit like a scene from the Keystone Kops.  Errors abound.  The team slumps.  But they are sticking to the middle of the pack in the standings.  So Rachel starts to take away some of the more privileged amenities from the team to induce them to play bad.  Like hot water in the showers.  And subsiting a twin engine prop plane for the egregious jet to take the team on road trips (and then, that failing, making them ride a bus).

When Rachel's plan becomes apparent, Brown finds the motivation for the team.  If they improve enough to win the AL division series her hopes will be dashed.  And, of course, they proceed to try to get better as a result.  Spoiler alert! If you want to watch this movie and the sequel first, you should skip down to the part where I talk about Harry Doyle.

Of course, the Indians do win the division series.  Flash forward to the events of the sequel, Major League II.  In this film, the Indians had gone on to the AL championship series, but lost to the Chicago White Sox.  Now they are trying to mount another attack on the ultimate prize, a trip to the World Series.  Fortunately for the team, Rachel sold the team to Roger Dorn, so she is no longer a problem to the team.

But unfortunately, in the interim, many of the team players have become somewhat of a dilettante bunch themselves.  In particular, the ace pitcher, Vaughn (who had been known as "Wild Thing") is in a slump.   Much of this seems to be attributed to the fact that he has renounced his wild image and become more sedate in his lifestyle.  The rest of the cast has also let stardom go to their heads.  All except Cerrano, who has become even more devout, but this time has added Buddhism to his repertoire.

The team starts to slump again, and worse, Dorn is in bad financial straits and has to sell the team back to Rachel. That plus the loss of a major star hitter,  Jack Parkman (David Keith), who left the team to join the rival White Sox.  So what motivates the team to mount another attack?  Well, initially it's the heart attack that Lou suffers.  (No, he doesn't die...this ain't Rocky III...)

In both movies there is a side love story going on.  In Major League, Taylor tries to get back with his ex-wife, with whom he still retains a love, despite his amorous adventures he had both while married and now as a divorced man.  And in Major League II, the focal point is on Vaughn, who has a relationship with his manager, Rebecca Flannery (Allison Doody), but is still in love with his former girlfriend, Nicki (Michelle Burke).

Another cast member that shines is Randy Quaid as a fan of the Indians who initially is optimistic about the teams chances, but grows increasingly disgruntled, even alienating his seatmates to the point where they relegate him to a seat by himself in the nosebleed section of the outfield.

 Harry Doyle:

One of the highlights of both films is Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker), the play-by-play announcer for the Indians radio broadcast.  Harry tries to rally the fans, despite the Keystone Kops antics of the team.

"Juuuuuuuuuuuuuust a bit outside!" (said after a wild pitch by Vaughn that misses the batter's box by a mile.)

"This guy threw at his own son in a father-son game."

"Heywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair."

"Well, the Indians have a runner, I think I'll wet my pants."

"We've got a real nail biter, here, folks.  It's a lot closer than the 11-2 score."

And by far my favorite, an exchange between Doyle and his color man:

"One hit???  That's all we got is one goddamn hit?"
"Harry, you can't say 'goddamn' on the air."
"Ah, don't worry about it.  Nobody's listening anyway."

Bob Uecker has had a great life, if you ask me.  He played baseball for real back in the 60's, playing for five years, and holding what I think is still the record for the lowest batting average for a career (.200).  To his credit, however he was a great defensive player in his position as a catcher.

Uecker moved from the playing field to become a broadcast announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers, and also being a color man on national TV broadcasts.  But it his frequent role in Miller Lite commercials in the late 70's and early 80's is probably what he is most remembered, especially for folks in my age bracket.  That exposure lead to a TV series, Mr. Belvedere, in which he played a sportscaster who  hires the titular character to be a butler for his family.  And, BTW, to his role in the Major League movies.  (No, despite the fact that he had been a broadcaster, it was his performance in the commercials that got the attention of the producers of the movies.)

Uecker has written two autobiographies.  The first one, Catcher in the Wry, is a hoot.  You really get an idea of what a consummate comedian he would have made had he chosen that outlet instead of baseball.  I haven't come across the second one, Catch 222, but I imagine it's probably pretty good.