The Bad News Bears
The Bad News Bears is a 1976 American sports comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie and written by Bill Lancaster. It stars Walter Matthau as an alcoholic ex-baseball pitcher who becomes a coach for a youth baseball team known as the Bears. Alongside Matthau, the film's cast includes Tatum O'Neal, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patten, Ben Piazza, Jackie Earle Haley, and Alfred W. Lutter. Its score, composed by Jerry Fielding, adapts the principal themes of Bizet's opera Carmen.
Released by Paramount Pictures, The Bad News Bears received generally positive reviews. It was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978, a short-lived 1979–80 CBS television series, and a 2005 remake.
Morris Buttermaker, an alcoholic and former minor-league baseball pitcher, is recruited to coach "the Bears," a Southern California Youth Baseball League team of misfit players formed as a compromise to a lawsuit brought against the league for excluding such players from other teams. Shunned by the more competitive teams (and competitive parents), the Bears are the outsiders. Buttermaker forfeits the opening game after the team allows 26 runs without recording an out.
To improve the team, Buttermaker recruits two unlikely prospects: sharp-tongued Amanda Whurlitzer, a skilled pitcher (trained by Buttermaker when she was younger) who is the 11-year-old daughter of one of Buttermaker's ex-girlfriends; and the local cigarette-smoking, loan-sharking, Harley-Davidson-riding troublemaker, Kelly Leak, who also happens to be a good athlete, but has been excluded in the past by league officials. With Amanda and Kelly on board, the team starts gaining more confidence, and the Bears start winning games.
Eventually, the Bears make it to the championship game opposite the top-notch Yankees, who are coached by aggressive, competitive Roy Turner. As the game progresses, tensions rise as Buttermaker and Turner engage in ruthless behavior toward each other and the players in order to win the game. When Turner strikes his son, the pitcher, for not following an order, Buttermaker realizes he, too, has placed too much emphasis on winning, and puts in his benchwarmers to allow everyone to play. Because of Buttermaker's move, the Bears lose the game. Buttermaker gives the team beer which they spray on each other with a field celebration as if they had won.
The Bad News Bears was filmed in and around Los Angeles, primarily in the San Fernando Valley. The field where they played is in Mason Park on Mason Avenue in Chatsworth. In the film, the Bears were sponsored by an actual company, Chico's Bail Bonds. One scene was filmed in the council chamber at Los Angeles City Hall.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 97% based on reviews from 30 critics and an average rating of 7.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Bad News Bears is rude, profane, and cynical, but shot through with honest, unforced humor, and held together by a deft, understated performance from Walter Matthau."
In his 1976 review, critic Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and called it "an unblinking, scathing look at competition in American society." Gene Siskel awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four, calling the film's characters "more types than people" and the kids' foul-mouth dialogue "overdone," though he found O'Neal's performance "genuinely affecting." Variety called it "the funniest adult-child comedy film since 'Paper Moon'," and lauded the "excellent" script. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times declared it "the best American screen comedy of the year to date," adding, "Bright, pugnacious and utterly realistic as most children seem to be today, these kids are drawn with much accuracy and are played beautifully." Vincent Canby of The New York Times found the film only "occasionally funny" but praised screenwriter Bill Lancaster for "the talent and discipline to tell the story of 'The Bad News Bears' almost completely in terms of what happens on the baseball diamond or in the dugout." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post praised it as "a lively, spontaneously funny entertainment" that "could rally a large parallel audience seeking less innocuous and stereotyped pictures with and about children." Tom Milne of The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "miraculously funny and entirely delightful."
Walter Matthau was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy. The screenplay by Bill Lancaster, son of actor Burt Lancaster, was winner of a Writers Guild of America award.
Saturday Night Live did a parody of the film with Matthau as the guest host called The Bad News Bees with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and the rest in their recurring bee costumes for what would be their final time. This subtly referenced masturbation which was alluded to as "buzzing-off."