|Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michael Moriarty, Vincent Gardenia, Phil Foster
Director: John Hancock
Break out the handkerchiefs, “Bang the Drum Slowly” wants to be the baseball version of “Brian's Song.” It lacks much of the latter's poignancy, since it is a purely fictional account, but the theme and tone remain. Once again we find an athlete stricken with cancer in the prime of his life and watch him as he goes down the inevitable path. This time it's a dumb, country-boy catcher, playing for a fictional New York team that is meant to tug at our heartstrings. Unfortunately, no real relationships are ever developed in this film, so, even with Robert DeNiro playing the lead, something always seems to be lacking.
After catcher Bruce Pearson (DeNiro) is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, he is told the end may come at any time. He and Henry (Michael Moriarty), the star pitcher, resolve to keep the news to themselves and head off for spring training as usual. Bruce has never been well respected, and it looks like he probably won't even make the team this year. Henry, who is holding out, agrees to sign for less money as long as a clause is written in, effectively guaranteeing that Bruce stays. The season begins and things are going pretty well, but they can't seem to put it all together. There is a lot of dissension and bickering going on, and it's keeping them from gelling. Slowly the secret leaks out, which of course unites the team, and they go on to win the pennant, albeit with a quickly deteriorating catcher. Bruce has to go off to the hospital (promising to see them all in the spring) while the rest of the team goes on to win the World Series. He dies soon afterward, forgotten by all except Henry.
While still trying to be a bit of a tear-jerker, “Bang the Drum Slowly” isn't nearly as dramatic as it should have been. Bruce is in there, playing on pretty well, and then he's gone. This film ends up being about a fictional championship baseball team, rather than about a dying member of that team.