The second in a series of a lifelong baseball fan finally watching some movie classics for the first time while social distancing. For the previous installment, see Bull Durham.
Eight Men Out
Eight Men Out depicts the history of the Black Sox scandal accurately and gives a genuine sense of the times. Gamblers were abundant, and fixing games was not out of the ordinary. Owners routinely underpaid the players, who were almost powerless to fight for better salaries. Yet, it is this very depiction of a rampantly corrupt context that prevents Eight Men Out from being a great film.
Just Short of Compelling
The viewer is primed to see this story as a morality tale. Wholesome players, like Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver, fall into mortal sin in pursuit of avarice while betraying the national pastime. However, the storytellers devoted too much time early in the movie to the blatant corruption and not enough to the love of the game by players and fans. Perhaps an introduction following Weaver or some other hapless victim of the reserve clause during a joyful debut as a major leaguer would have better served to illustrate his disillusionment with an unjust economic system. Such a scene would have made Weaver’s later enthusiasm on the field more convincing.
This movie shines when focusing on the games themselves. Here we see the pitiable frustrations of incorruptible Ray Schalk as he struggles in vain for victory while catching for the tormented Cicotte and Lefty Williams. Weaver almost immediately abandons the fix (if he even agreed to it), incurring hateful stares from his simultaneous former and present colleagues. But it is Cicotte, in an excellent performance by David Strathairn, who gives us the greatest drama. In his eyes, we see the conflict. There is good in him, only temporarily and just barely overridden by a desire for money and justice against Charles Comiskey’s theft (especially ironic given Comiskey’s time with the proto-union Players’ League during his own career). Seemingly out of this conflict, Cicotte throws a strike before hitting the first batter to announce the fix to the gamblers in attendance.
Three Out of Four Baseballs
Overall, Eight Men Out is a fine film and a necessary piece of the baseball movie canon. I award it three out of four baseballs, though you will never know if I was paid to do so.
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