Cast & Crew
One day in Willow Falls, New York, busy lawyer and avid baseball fan Bruce Hallerton accepts an offer to manage the Panthers Little League team in hopes of spending more time with his son Dennis over the summer. At the first day of practice after meeting with clean-cut coach Buck Rivers and hearing the eager parents' demands for a winning season, Bruce tells the young boys that "a loss is not a catastrophe." Later, widow Doris Patterson explains to Bruce that the game has served as a second parent to her son, and flirts with the married man to entice him into making Herbie the team pitcher. After a full day of calisthenics, practicing slides and running with the boys, an exhausted Bruce returns home, where he tells his wife Betty that Dennis has been assigned to the Tigers, the opposing team coached by the unsportsman-like Ed Ryder. Consequently, Betty becomes upset because Bruce convinced her to allow him to manage the team on the grounds that he would spend more time with Dennis. One afternoon, when Doris gives Bruce a ride home, Betty questions him about Doris' motives, but Bruce explains that Herbie needs fatherly attention. In the ensuing days, Bruce and Betty discover that most of the community members are heavily invested in their children's competition. One night, banker George Carruthers invites the couple to dinner only to pressure Bruce into allowing his son Foster to pitch for the team. Later, when Betty suggests that he is playing favorites with Herbie, Bruce tells her that Herbie will remain a pitcher while Foster will be second baseman. At their first game against the Tigers, Bruce gently encourages his team to do their best while Ryder aggressively coaches the Tigers, who easily win the game against the intimidated Panthers. Afterward, most of the parents, as well as the citizens of Willow Falls, openly criticize Bruce for the loss. Even Dennis boasts about his own batting power to the family dog while Betty, who admits she knows nothing of the game, agrees that Bruce's team played poorly. After listening to Bruce rave about Doris' courage as a single parent, a jealous Betty learns the game with the help of a manual and then offers to be the team's scorekeeper to keep an eye on her husband. One day, when Dennis bitterly complains about losing a game, Bruce tries to give his son lessons in good sportsmanship, but the insolent boy instead bets his father that the Panthers will lose every game. Over the next weeks, the team improves, but in a game against the Tigers, the boys are again intimidated by the Tigers' sideline harassment. When Bruce suggests Ryder is encouraging his team to play unfairly, both Dennis and Betty accuse him of being a sore loser. After Doris invites the Hallertons to her house for dinner, Bruce's lavish praise for her hospitality and home cooking infuriates Betty. After he discovers that Doris was once an actress, Bruce excitedly recites the lines of a romantic production with her, to Betty's further chagrin. The next morning Betty serves breakfast to a hung-over Bruce while caustically reciting from the previous night's escapade. Days later, in a close game between the Panthers and Tigers, a brawl ensues between the teams when Panther catcher Freddy hits Dennis and makes the winning run in the last inning. Although most of the parents suggest that their boys must stand up for themselves, Bruce refuses to sanction fights, thus prompting over half the parents to pull their boys off the team. When even Betty takes the parents' side, Bruce insists that an overly aggressive spirit has no place on the field. That night, after Bruce accepts Doris' request to help Herbie cope with the loss, Betty complains that he needs to be a better father to his own son, not others. On the drive to Doris' house, Bruce convinces himself that Doris, as Betty suggests, is trying to make a pass at him and practices dissuading her from pursuing an affair. After telling Herbie not to let the Tigers' bad sportsmanship shake his confidence, Bruce abruptly announces to Doris that he has no intention of divorcing Betty to become involved with her. Insulted, Doris complains that he is accusing her of being a "husband chaser" and demands Bruce leave. Late that night, Bruce, feeling rejected by the entire community as well as his wife and son, drowns his sorrows at a bar with drunken Little League parent O'Keefe. When the two stumble back to the Hallerton home, they find Betty has bolted the door. After O'Keefe breaks the lock, the two continue drinking in the study, where O'Keefe states that Ryder is rough only with the Panthers, not other teams. During the next game with the Tigers, Bruce decides to bring in a caged panther as a mascot and coaches his boys to play hard but fair. Driven by fierce spirit, the Panthers play well, including Herbie, who easily ignores the Tigers' harassing remarks. The Panthers are only one run behind the Tigers in the last inning when Bruce decides to have O'Keefe's pudgy son Man Mountain run for another batter. The small but fast boy quickly steals second and third base, but on the way to home plate, Man Mountain is caught between bases as the catcher and third baseman toss the ball back and forth to tag him out. Finally, Man Mountain slides home safely, winning a victory for the Panthers. The excited parents rush to congratulate the boys, leaving Bruce alone on the field. Assuming that he is still not appreciated, Bruce vows to never again volunteer. Later at the Hallerton home, all the players and the parents, including Doris, surprise Bruce with a party to thank him for his insistence on playing fairly. Much to Betty's chagrin, Bruce is so enthralled by the recognition that he immediately accepts another volunteer position, as a scout leader, and spends the party reminiscing about his hiking days, digressing into more tales of tribulations and folly.
Arthur E. Arling
Edward G. Boyle
A. Arnold Gillespie
William A. Horning
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
The Great American Pastime
The screenplay for The Great American Pastime was the first by writer Nathaniel Benchley, the son of famed writer and humorist Robert Benchley (who was featured in his own series of MGM shorts from 1935 to 1944). The film is introduced and narrated by the lead character: Bruce Hallerton (Tom Ewell), a lawyer living in the suburbs with his wife Betty (Anne Francis) and son Dennis (Rudy Lee). Bruce, a baseball fan, agrees to be a coach for the local Little League in an effort to be closer with his son. While Dennis is eventually picked for another team, Bruce soon finds himself inundated with advice on how to run the team from others in the community. Every parent wants his or her son to get more field time, including attractive widow Doris Patterson (Ann Miller). Betty notices the undue attention being paid to her husband by Mrs. Patterson, so she becomes the team secretary in order to keep an eye on the situation; it is difficult for her since she can't stand baseball.
The Little League concept was developed by Carl Stotz in Pennsylvania beginning in 1939. The volunteer-run organization spread across the United States in the 1950s, and by 1956 when The Great American Pastime was made, there were leagues in all 48 states. In his book Baseball in the Movies: A Comprehensive Reference, 1915-1991 (McFarland, 1992), author Hal Erickson writes that The Great American Pastime displays "...the expected comedy inherent in the concept of flabby, middle-aged adults living their dreams of glory through their children, but the satiric thrust is gentle to the point of being antiseptic. The young ballplayers perform vigorously in the film's sporadic game sequences, exhibiting more pep and enthusiasm than is found in 90 percent of the films about adult baseball." Erickson notes the credulity-stretching premise of the romantic plotline, writing that "...modern audiences are dumbfounded that either [Ann Miller or Anne Francis] can see anything in Bruce Hallerton who, as played by Tom Ewell, is such a ploddingly unromantic fellow, with so pronounced a tendency to comport himself like a TV sitcom 'idiot father,' that he makes Hugh Beaumont look like Cary Grant."
Contemporary reviews noted many of the same shortcomings when the film was released in theaters. Writing in Variety, "Holl" anticipated Erickson's comments when he noted that "the character Ewell is called on to play is unfortunately the stereotype of an American father that television, in particular, has advanced. He's a silly, bumbling nincompoop totally unaware of the realities that surround him...Ewell is frequently funny in a farcical way, but his character never emerges as a real person." This writer optimistically calculates the chances for the film at the box office, saying that "with the proper spotting and promotional tieups with local little leaguers, fair returns can be probably realized." Unfortunately for MGM, such was not the case and the film did not break a profit in the theaters.
The critic for the Hollywood Reporter noted the pedigree of the screenplay and commented that "Tom Ewell is the closest thing we have today to the late Robert Benchley, [with] the same ability to render a flat line with humorous effect." The Great American Pastime was Ann Miller's last film for MGM, and, in fact, her last important role in a feature film until her final one, a supporting part in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001).
Producer: Henry Berman
Director: Herman Hoffman
Screenplay: Nathaniel Benchley
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Art Direction: Randall Duell, William A. Horning
Music: Jeff Alexander
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Cast: Tom Ewell (Bruce Hallerton), Anne Francis (Betty Hallerton), Ann Miller (Mrs. Doris Patterson), Dean Jones (Buck Rivers), Rudy Lee (Dennis Hallerton), Judson Pratt (Ed Ryder), Raymond Bailey (George Carruthers), Wilfred Knapp (Mr. Dawson), Bob Jellison (Mr. O'Keefe)
by John M. Miller
The Great American Pastime
The working titles for the film were Little Leaguer and Father's Little Leaguer. Tom Ewell as "Bruce Hallerton" addresses the camera at the beginning of the story and provides voice-over narration of his character's inner monologue throughout the film.
By 1956, when the film was released, the Little League had established teams in all of the [then] 48 states and in Canada and had become a popular American hobby. The Little League was formally established in 1939 by Carl E. Stotz, and by 1947, the first National Little League Tournament was held. As noted in the November 21, 1956 Variety review of The Great American Pastime, the film reflected not only the growing popularity of Little League, but also the sometimes overly competitive spirit among parents involved in the child's game.
A March 20, 1951 Los Angeles Examiner article noted that Samuel Goldwyn purchased a story entitled "The Great American Pastime" from writers Norman Foster and Robert Keith and planned to produce the film that year. According to the article, the original story was about a girl's softball team. Goldwyn was considering the "Goldwyn girls" to star in the picture and, according to a April 27, 1951 Los Angeles Times article, approached Ken Englund to write the screenplay. Aside from the common theme of baseball, no information has been located to connect that story with the 1956 film. A July 16, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Gene Coogan, Mitch Rhein, Sandra Ross and Willie Bloom to the film's cast. A June 5, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Robert Bronner was signed as director of photography; however, onscreen credit is given to Arthur E. Arling.
The Great American Pastime was the first film of writer Nathaniel Benchley (1915-1981), son of noted American humorist and actor Robert Benchley and father of novelist Peter Benchley. Nathaniel has a bit part in film as well. The film was the last M-G-M production of actress Ann Miller (1923-2004). Miller did not make another film until her cameo appearance in the 1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Her final screen appearance was a brief role in David Lynch's 2001 Mulholland Dr..
Walt Disney produced a television movie for his series Walt Disney Presents that also centered on a Little League team. The series was entitled Moochie and the Little League and was broadcast on ABC-TV on October 7, 1959.
Released in United States Winter January 1957
Released in United States Winter January 1957