Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"LONG GONE" 1987 Dir. Martin Davidson



What I remember:

This was a made for HBO movie, back when that didn’t carry as much weight as it does now. In those days, “made for pay TV” was much like our “straight to DVD” is now. In other words, it’s not good enough or it doesn’t have enough star power to be in theatrical release. Was it really originally made for HBO, or was it picked up by them as a movie too good to be shelved? IMDB says it was an HBO production, so one must assume it truly was made for TV. IMDB also says that the film’s lead, William Peterson, turned down the Tom Berenger role in “Platoon” to be in “Long Gone”. Hmmm. Would he have done that for a film that he knew was only going to play on Pay TV?

Whatever the case, it would have been a success in theaters, I believe. It predates “Bull Durham”, and memory tells me that it was just about as good. I remember some great touches, like the casting of Teller (from Penn and Teller) as Henry Gibson’s son. It’s supposed to be the ‘50’s in the south, and they get a lot of the atmosphere right. It was very funny, with lots of well played baseball scenes, a blisteringly hot Virginia Madsen (as one of the best named characters in film history, Dixie Lee Boxx), Dermit Mulroney’s first major role, and Larry Riley playing the power hitting black player they try to pawn off as Latino. To this date, when listing our favorite baseball movies, both my wife and I have “Long Gone” in our top 3. We are both quite keen to watch it again.

After re-watching:

“Tell him this ain’t New York, Daddy. Tell him we got the Klan here, in case he ain’t noticed” – Hale Buchman Jr.

“Only words djoo got know een Beisbol: ‘Hamborger’, ‘I got it’, ‘Poossy’, ‘No Comprendo’ ”. – Paco Izquierdo

PLOT SUMMARY

It’s 1957, and the Tampico Stogies are a terrible low A level team, that may or may not be affiliated with a Major League franchise. Their player/manager is Stud Cantrell (William Peterson), who is a typical hard drinking, hard playing, hard loving man’s man. He meets an extremely hot to trot young woman, whom he intends to love and leave, but she becomes a bit more than he bargained for. He signs up two prospects, one an innocent rookie with a vacuum cleaner glove, and the other a black power hitter from the Josh Gibson mold. Together the three spearhead a revival of the perennial losing franchise, and guide them toward a league championship.


Q- Was my memory accurate?

STORY/THEME

Is it a baseball movie, or is it a movie about racism in the south? Is it a romantic comedy, or is it a period piece? Maybe it’s a coming of age movie. Or is it a Faustian fable? All of the above or none?

Well hell’s bells, boys, is all I gotta say. It’s a got-damn movie so just sit back and enjoy, you naval-staring Yankees!

What it really is, is the first movie about the Minor Leagues. The Minors have been a major part of my family’s life for the past 20 plus years, so I know a dadgum thing or two about them. When I first saw “Long Gone”, I had little to no knowledge of the Minor Leagues. Those 20 years have certainly put a spin on my perception of the film. “Long Gone” is definitely a fantasy. It was not trying for authenticity the way “Bull Durham” did. In fact, the film has more similarities to “Slap Shot” than it does to the great Ron Shelton work. For example, there is one plot device that is outright stolen from “Slap Shot”. Dusty Hoolihan is the Ogie Ogilthorpe of this movie, so if you’re an acolyte of that great hockey satire, that should give you enough to go on.

Primarily, “Long Gone” is an enjoyable romp that tries to be all things to all people. Maybe if it had focused a bit more on one of the factors dealt with, the film would be considered far better. Unfortunately, it is quite scatter-shot. The most compelling part of the film is the story of Joe Louis Brown, ex-Negro Leaguer without a job, who tries to get his career back by taking on with the Stogies. The fact that teams in the ‘50’s South were still segregated, is circumvented by having the announcer call him Jose Brown from Venezuela. One of the best moments in the film comes when Brown hits a pinch-hit walk-off homerun in his first at bat for Tampico. The team is still celebrating in the locker room when Brown approaches the showers, and quickly the room grows silent. As soon as he realizes what’s happening, he shouts, “I don’t want to shower with no white boys anyway!”

The two main relationships, Cantrell and Dixie, and the young, slick-fielding Jamie Weeks and his ultra-Christian girlfriend, Esther, are not the deepest of character studies. As a romantic comedy it falls a bit short. While no actual playing of baseball is quite as embarrassingly bad as Tim Robbins’ attempt at a fastball delivery in “Bull Durham”, the game itself is very trivial to the movie. As a baseball action (oxymoron?) movie it also falls quite short.

As for plot and character development, all three lead male roles are put to the test, Cantrell and Brown to the “temptation of greed test”, Weeks to the “maturity/responsibility” test. However these tests come almost at the end of the movie, so your motivational obstacles are quite diminished by the amount of time they are given.

FILMMAKING

Martin Davidson, I knew Sergei Eisenstein, and you sir…..

Let’s not be harsh, here. In other hands, this could have been a much better watch, no question. However, the comedy is quite well done here. The entire movie has a kind of soft-focus glow, like an ‘80’s SkinaMax soft-core, or a Breck ad from the ‘70’s. The feeling of being hot and sweaty runs through the entire proceedings, and most of the guys walk around in unbuttoned shirts and rolled up sleeves. The camera is certainly not the star, but when it focuses on a young Virginia Madsen, well, it becomes everybody’s friend. She is positively luminous throughout, and embodies the idea of a movie star.

There are no real standout visuals, nothing too interesting done sound or set-wise. It’s pretty much run–of-the-mill filmmaking on a limited budget. The soundtrack is nice with a lot of classic R&B and some old time Rock and Roll. There is also a great scene on the team bus, with Joe Louis Brown singing and playing on the harmonica an improvised song for the Stogies that endears him to the team.

PERFORMANCES

William Peterson does a fine job with his charming, folksy and charismatic part; his smile lights up the screen, and his befuddlement when cornered by Dixie is believable.
Larry Riley as Brown has a convincing power swing, and he captures the fun-loving but world-weariness of the persecuted black man pre-Civil Rights Movement. Riley was also the big power hitter in “A Soldier’s Story”, the excellent baseball/military/whodunit of the ‘90’s. Sadly, Riley’s career was cut short by AIDS.



Ms. Madsen was so undeniably gorgeous at this time, that she could have stuttered like King Bertie through the whole film and nobody would have cared. It happens that she is quite good with her less than meaty role. She has a couple of scenes where she gets to emote, and handles them well. Dermit Mulroney looks the part of a young phenom, and he is pretty solid. His opposite number, Katy Boyer is entirely forgettable as the Christian girl succumbing to her lust. One imagines a young Meg Ryan in the same role doing a much more humorous turn. Much of the funniest bits are Henry Gibson and Teller as the clone-ish father and son, Hale Buchman Sr. and Jr. Junior is always either telling his father to say things directly, or whispering the ideas to him. Senior subsequently repeats these things as if they were his own idea. Teller is sufficiently evil as Junior, and therefore very funny.

ON SECOND LOOK

You must remember that “Long Gone” was made in 1987, two years before “Bull Durham”. Is it better than Shelton’s masterpiece? Of course not. Does it deserve to be a top 3 baseball film? Maybe not. It’s damn funny, and I think if it had had a bit more focus, could have been really great. I will say this- the combination of comedy, irreverence, atmosphere and Ms. Madsen’s smokin’ hot face and body were enough to keep it in my mind for 24 years. There’s something to be said for that!

1st Look- ★★★★ 2nd Look-★★★

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