Bang the Drum Slowly (1956)

The other day I watched a disc of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes of similar vintage to this, and it made an interesting contrast with these live dramas, the comparative slickness of the pre-filmed shows against the comparative roughness of the live ones. Kind of like film versus theatre, and this one has a markedly theatrical flavour, like No Time for Sergeants but not a comedy. A not quite famous yet Paul Newman is our protagonist, Henry “Author” Wiggin, and narrator as in that other production, which is presented in similar fashion (lots of fades to and out of black and moving about on “stage” as Author steps into and out of each scene to talk to us folks at home); this time, though, the idiot is his offsider, Bruce. Both of them play baseball with the NY Mammoths, or rather, Author plays while Bruce keeps the bench warm and is generally mistreated by the other players (who are, admittedly, just as good at abusing each other; they’re not the happiest mob). Author and Bruce are roommates while the team is touring, it’s not much of a friendship, but things change when Bruce discovers he has a terminal illness. Knowing that Butch’s limited career will be over even sooner than expected if management finds out, Author promises to keep the news secret… but will he? Dave Blakeslee’s review of the production nails the problems I had with it; apart from the storyline not really being hugely plausible, the manipulativeness of the whole enterprise just got on my tits. Especially towards the end, when Bruce’s problem has become known, and it helps bring the team back together just when they’ve been on the point of implosion and they come to the realisation “hey, the moron’s actually OK after all”. Newman obviously demonstrates just why he became a star, but on the whole the play just kind of got on my nerves.

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