The Batter’s Eye: Bang the Drum Slowly

Learning more about baseball has taught me about the essential relationship between the pitcher and the catcher. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973, directed by John Hancock) is definitely about that.

The poster for Bang the Drum Slowly

Starring Robert De Niro as Bruce, a simple-minded catcher who learns he’s dying of cancer, and Michael Moriarty as Henry, an intelligent pitcher, it definitely has a lot of ’70s melodrama. (When a cancer diagnosis is in play from the very beginning, it’s clear where this is going.) Henry is the only person, outside of his family, that knows Bruce has cancer and decides to keep it a secret and support him.

De Niro is sweet enough as Bruce and Moriarty sells why Henry would have such a soft spot for him. Still, these are pretty thinly-drawn characters and no amount of good acting can make up for the tear-jerking nature of the plot. I feel like this hasn’t aged very well.

Further stretching things is team manager Dutch (Vincent Gardenia) trying to discover why Henry insists on Bruce catching for him and what they were doing in Minneapolis. This all felt tedious to me.

Bruce and Henry play for the New York Mammoths, which is essentially the Yankees. (Other major league teams are featured.) I imagine it was a rights issue, but it’s distracting. Still, there was a lot of baseball action (I suspect it was mostly archival, though).

The strongest parts are definitely when Bruce and Henry are together. It’s an example of friendship between men that is about kindness and understanding, and I especially like that this is in a sports movie.

I wished I’d liked this more than I did but I appreciated it for its tenderness.