"Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING?"
Although the soft-focus present day opening now seems awfully corny, director Penny Marshall's "League of Their Own" still stands out as a fan favorite, thanks to several quotable lines and a handful of excellent performances. The film revolves around the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League, which was founded in 1943, when it became apparent that the men's baseball league would potentially have to close during the war.
The film's introductions are done in an inspired fashion, as an agent (Jon Lovitz, in one of his best performances) goes by train across the country, looking for potential players. One of his stops includes Oregon, where he finds Dottie and Kit (Geena Davis and Lori Petty), sisters - one who can catch, the other who can pitch. One's not terribly good in the agent's eyes, but if he can get one, he'll take the other.
Once they arrive in Chicago, the picture introduces the other players, including a duo played by Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell. The team in Rockford finds themselves in need of a coach, who arrives in the form of Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a former ballplayer who's now an alcoholic and all-around washout. Although the coach barely manages to coach, the girls actually start doing well and end up in the league's championship.
The film does take from the usual stereotypes of sports pictures, but the performances are excellent, the movie's characters are unusually well-defined and there are a number of subplots going on at any one time. Petty's performance portraying the sister continually in the shadow of her older sis is particularly good. Hanks provides a classic performance, while Davis's no-nonsense effort is superb. Rosie O'Donnell, who I've never thought was particularly funny, has a great supporting turn, as do Madonna and Gary Marshall. It's unfortunate, however, that Lovitz doesn't return after the opening. The film's portrayal - including solid production design and nicely recreated newsreels - of the history of the league sheds an interesting light on a little-known aspect of the sport's history. The picture wraps things up a little too neatly, but it's otherwise a lively, funny and often heartwarming film that's held up quite nicely.
VIDEO: "League of Their Own" is presented once again here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan. The odd thing about the release is that, given the fact the release has two DVDs, I'd have thought the widescreen release could get some breathing room on its own platter, while the pan & scan release could join the additional supplements on the second disc. Oh well.
The anamorphic widescreen presentation generally looks quite good, aside from a few slight-to-mild issues. Sharpness and detail are satisfactory in the flashback scenes that make up the majority of the picture, but the present day scenes can look a tad soft. The print used does display some minor dirt and a few specks on occasion, but this didn't effect the viewing experience too much. Light edge enhancement and compression artifacts are spotted on a couple of occasions, but aren't much of a distraction. Colors seemed natural and generally well-rendered, with no smearing.
SOUND: "League of Their Own" is presented in Dolby Digital 4.1 by Columbia/Tristar. The film's soundtrack is fairly basic, with minimal surround use, nice spread of score across the front and clean dialogue.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes a commentary from director Penny Marshall and actresses Megan Cavanagh, Lori Petty, and Tracy Reiner. Marshall generally dominates the commentary, providing some fun and enjoyable tidbits about casting, the actual history behind the league, technical details and enjoyable stories from the production. Petty comes in second, as she bounces ideas off of the other participants and has a lot of interesting tidbits to contribute.
The main supplement included on the second disc is the 51-minute documentary, "Nine Memorable Innings". Penny Marshall (who, with darker hair and the glasses she wears, reminded me slightly of Ozzy Ozbourne), writers Babaloo Mandell and Lowell Ganz, members of the cast and others contribute interviews in this newly produced doc. The piece talks about casting, training, production, working with one another and some of the storys from the set. It's not a terribly in-depth piece, relying mostly on interviews, but it's light and entertaining, with a few solid tidbits.
Rounded out the DVD are: a deleted scenes section (15 scenes) with intros from director Penny Marshall, filmographies, Madonna music video ("This Used To Be My Playground") and previews for "League of their Own", "Natural" and "Brian's Song".
Final Thoughts: It's probably been a good 10 years since I've seen "League of Their Own", but not only did the film stand up well, I actually found myself liking it more this time around. The performances are terrific and the picture is a great mixture of drama and superbly played comedy. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides good audio/video quality and nice helping of supplements. Recommended.
The Film ***