The Bad News Bears Were Our Babysitters

Earlier this week, someone posted a video clip on Facebook. It was a clip from The Bad News Bears, a movie that was released in 1976. And oh, how that one short clip took me back in time. Not familiar with the movie? You can see the trailer here.

When I was a little girl between the ages of seven and ten, the movie theater was my babysitter. Many Saturday nights, our parents would drop off me and my younger brother at the local movie theater. Sometimes it was a double feature, but I think that was with the less popular movies. The local theater was a Mom and Pop operation with one screen. No megaplex. Just one screen, and they showed first run movies, usually a different one every week. The only one I remember showing for two weeks was Jaws in 1975, and yes, I was eight, and my brother was six when we saw it.

Our parents never did any “pre-screening” of any of the movies. As long as it wasn’t rated R, we went, and we loved Saturday nights at the movies!

In 1975, our favorite movie was Jaws, and our favorite in 1977 was Smokey and the Bandit, which was released on my tenth birthday…both rated PG, and both inappropriate by today’s standards. I saw Smokey and the Bandit again last year, and there is no way that movie could even be made today.

Between those great movies, there was The Bad News Bears, released in 1976. It was rated PG, and every kid wanted to see it. IMDb.com sums it up saying, “An aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits in an ultra-competitive California little league.” It starred Walter Matthau as the coach and Tatum O’Neal as Amanda, an 11-year old girl with mad pitching skills. The movie’s language is bad; it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect, and the coach is a drunk, but the team of misfits pulls together. If it were released today, lots of parents would freak out at the political incorrectness, language and mature content. Heck, there might even be an uproar, but it was a great movie from my childhood. I don’t remember anybody’s parents making a big deal about it. Back then, there wasn’t a PG-13 rating, so everything that wasn’t G or R fell into the middle category, PG. This movie would have been a PG-13 by today’s standards. We loved The Bad News Bears.

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Yet somehow, The Bad News Bears stands the test of time. There are lots of movies that just aren’t as good 40 years after they’re made, but this one is just as funny and heartwarming to me now as it was in 1976, because despite the political incorrectness, it’s a story of people coming together. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen it over the years. I purchased the DVD a couple years ago and watched it with my daughter. Sure the language was inappropriate, but the rest of it…the beer cans, drunk Buttermaker (Walter Matthau’s coach character), the drinking/smoking/motorcycle riding guy named Kelly Leak who would become a part of the team…well, my daughter was as surprised as I was when I watched it in 1976, but she liked the movie. And Tatum O’Neal was so darn cute. The movie stands the test of time, though, because it wasn’t a glossed-over, Leave It To Beaver version of childhood. Somebody, somewhere was actually living that childhood.

While lots of people would think The Bad News Bears is a terrible movie for kids now, people didn’t worry so much about stuff like that in 1976. Heck, we could ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, as long as we were home when the streetlights came on. My parents were buying themselves some date time by dropping us at the movies, but we were also getting an education. The Bad News Bears is set in Southern California, a place I’d never visited at the time. It was about a little league baseball team of misfits that was sponsored by none other than Chico’s Bail Bonds. While those of us who lived in South Alabama could relate to a baseball league, I didn’t know anyone like Amanda (Tatum O’Neal’s character), who sat on the side of the road selling maps to stars’ homes. That seemed fun and exciting to me. Add in the fact that she was a female, 11-yr-old, pitching dynamo, and I thought she was awesome. She was still feminine, yet that team of boys needed her. There was a lesson of “girls can do anything boys can do” in there, and there was a big message about teamwork and friendship.

When I was a kid, we all talked about the characters and even had favorites. If I said something about Tanner from The Bad News Bears to someone my age today, most people would immediately know who that is. Say the name Buttermaker today, and everybody my age knows who that is. I just tested that on my brother. I texted him and asked, “If I say the name Buttermaker, do you know who that is?” He immediately texted back, “Bad News Bears.” And any time one of us hears Bizet’s Carmen Overture, we think of The Bad News Bears, because an adaptation of it was used as the theme song.

So, while lots of parents would never watch The Bad News Bears with their children, I allowed mine to watch it, inappropriate or not. Truthfully, I had forgotten how terrible the language was, but we watched it anyway. Language aside, maybe she saw a glimpse of life outside her bubble. Sure, some of the characters were over the top, but the overall theme and message in the movie was a good one. I mean, really…who can forget the scene near the end of the movie where Tanner tells the Yankees, who have just defeated the Bears in the championship, what they can do with their apology and their trophy? And little, mousy Lupus tells them, “And another thing! Just wait till next year!”…as he pours a beer over his teammate’s head.

The Bad News Bears was well-received by audiences and critics when it was released, even winning a Writer’s Guild of America Award.

I never dropped our daughter at the theater when she was younger than 12. Times have changed since the 70s. Kids aren’t as free-ranging as they used to be. Now that she’s a teenager, she meets friends at movies occasionally. They check movie times on their phones and purchase their tickets in advance online. At some theaters, they reserve their seats in advance. I wish we could have done that in the 1970s. And I wish we’d had those big, reclining seats too.

Back then, we had to call a pre-recorded message line (from our landline phones!) to hear the title and movie times. It was along the lines of, “Thank you for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema. Today is June 1st. Our movie this week is Jaws. Showtimes are 4:00, 7:00 and 9:30. Admission is $1 for children under 12 and $2 for adults. Thank you again for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema.” Here’s how often we called that theater line…I still remember the telephone number…more than 40 years later. And the floors were sticky. Everyone drank sodas back then, and there were no cupholders at the seats, so when they spilled, the soda would run down the sloped floor of the theater, making a long, sticky, soda line. Y’all remember…

So, cheers to The Bad News Bears and all those great 70s movies that could never be made in 2018. They were great babysitters, and they were educators too. They don’t make ’em like they used to. We learned a lot about life from those “inappropriate” movies, and we haven’t become ax murderers…shocking, I know.

Wish my little brother and I could share a beer with Buttermaker.

***To see a clip of one of the best scenes from the movie, click here.***

***Want to see some of the oldies but goodies mentioned in this blog? Amazon Prime has lots of them! Go to Amazon here and in the search box, enter the name of the movie you’d like to see.***

 

 

 

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