Monday, July 30, 2012

'Deliverance' From Evil

I didn't see "Deliverance" when it was making its rounds of the theaters in the second half of 1972.

"Deliverance" was rated R, and I was too young to go into an R–rated movie without my parents.

It was several years before I saw it. That's ironic, I suppose, because it probably would be rated PG today.

It's a suspenseful movie with some disturbing scenes, but there is no nudity that I can recall so it would probably get a milder rating to help boost the box office revenue. Especially since it had no splashy special effects.

That doesn't mean that I think it should have been rated PG.

And, frankly, there really was nothing wrong with the box office for "Deliverance." It was made for a budget of $2 million and earned more than $46 million.

"Deliverance" premiered 40 years ago today. Initially, the story was a pleasant one — about a group of friends getting away from their big–city lives to do some canoeing in the wilderness. While at the launch point, Ronny Cox jammed with one of the hillbilly locals in a tune that became a huge hit, "Dueling Banjos."

But the outing quickly turned horrific.

Most people who went to see the movie when it made its theatrical run were probably drawn by the star power of Burt Reynolds, possibly Jon Voight as well, but most who have seen "Deliverance" probably will speak of the powerful scenes they saw, not the stars.

They will tell you that the "Dueling Banjos" scene is one of two scenes in the movie that stuck in their memories.

The other was a very disturbing scene about a male rape by apparently inbred hillbillies. It was not graphic (mostly implied), but it was nevertheless terrifying.

Ned Beatty, appearing in his first feature film, was the victim who was told by his assailants to "squeal like a pig."

I only recall asking my parents once if I could see "Deliverance," and I don't know how much they knew about it, but I'm sure my mother's thoughts, at least, must have been influenced by the memory of the time, just a handful of years earlier, when I first saw "The Wizard of Oz" on TV.

The flying monkeys gave me nightmares for weeks — shoot, I got upset when I saw "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on TV. I can only imagine the trauma I would have experienced after seeing even that relatively sanitized — by modern standards — scene in "Deliverance."

While I don't want to give away anything if you haven't seen "Deliverance" — and, if that is the case, I urge you to see it — I will say that the ending has always reminded me of the ending of "Carrie."

And I would be inclined to say the ending of "Deliverance" was inspired by "Carrie" — except that "Carrie" was made four years after "Deliverance."

Remember earlier when I wrote of the irony of ratings? Well, there's another irony to this anniversary.

"Deliverance" told a story of rather ordinary people engaged in an ordinary recreational activity who found themselves in an extraordinary situation.

Not unlike the moviegoers in Colorado who recently found themselves at the mercy of a madman, the canoeists of "Deliverance" unexpectedly faced a life–and–death situation.

One can only wonder how he/she would respond when faced with something like that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Marilyn Mystery

Marilyn Monroe is such an iconic figure that you almost have to remind yourself that she really did exist.

I suppose if she hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to invent her.

Next Sunday marks half a century since she died, but, in memory, she is still the young and beautiful woman, the eternal sex symbol, that she was in August 1962. She was, after all, only 36.

Earlier that summer, she went skinny dipping for the cameras — and knocked all the competition off the magazine covers.

In May of that year, she sang "Happy Birthday to You" to President Kennedy in that breathless — and sexy — way that only she could.

It still seems impossible to imagine that vibrant, exciting woman, the embodiment of everything that heterosexual males (well, most of them) find irresistible, could have died in her bed one hot August night.

But it was true.

If people remember Marilyn — and she truly is one of the few people who can be mentioned by first name only and everyone knows who is being discussed — as a "distressed damsel," as Rafer Guzman calls her in Newsday, it's because she really was a damsel in distress.

All her life.

Sometimes the distress was her own doing, other times it wasn't.

I guess she fit the part of damsel in distress so easily in the public's mind because she played one so often in the movies — and that was the lucrative side of her life, I suppose — although Guzman disagrees: "Monroe rarely played sad or tragic roles."

I would argue that is not correct. There was often a tragic side to the roles she played, even if those roles were not "sad or tragic." In fact, when I think of Marilyn, my thoughts often turn to a movie she made 60 years ago — "Niagara."

In "Niagara," Marilyn played a hot–blooded woman whose attempt to murder her husband backfired. There are moments in that movie when Marilyn's face goes from an expression of absolute bliss to one of dread and fear in just a couple of seconds, and her personality, her character's very thoughts revealed in her eyes, shifts accordingly.

The same can be said of many of her other roles, even those that were essentially light and funny. She added an extra layer to the roles she played — layers that sometimes made me wonder if they had been the writers' ideas or Marilyn's.

But she was also a damsel in distress in her private life — failed marriages, failed pregnancies, substance abuse. In hindsight, her life resembles a runaway train — on a self–destructive path and likely to plow through anything and anyone that got in the way.

What a loss it was to movies that she didn't live longer and get the chance to play the kinds of roles that almost certainly would have come her way later in her life.

But perhaps, as Guzman suggests, there might be no place for Marilyn in modern movies. I suppose she would be retired by now, but, like the Beatles, a persona like hers might only have been possible in the era in which she lived.

If she hadn't died 50 years ago, she might have made her last screen appearance before Y2K — perhaps well before.

But just think what would not have been part of the fabric of American life if she had lived — primarily, I suppose, no speculation about a Kennedy conspiracy to kill her to keep her from spilling the beans about her alleged involvement with the president and his brother.

The relationship between men and women changed in many ways in the years after Marilyn's death, and one must wonder if she was versatile enough to keep up with the changes.

And, even if she had lived, Marilyn may well have been as much a relic of the mid–20th century as the "magic red sweater" that Lois Banner of the Daily Mail claims launched her career.

Her own words, in an interview published shortly before she died, offer few clues into how she might (or might not) have been able to cope when the landscape around her shifted.

"If fame goes by, so long, I've had you, fame," she told Richard Meryman of LIFE magazine. "If it goes by, I've always known it was fickle. So at least it's something I experienced, but that's not where I live."

It's all part of that enduring Marilyn mystery.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'High Noon:' A Thinking Man's Western

I've never been much of a fan of westerns — there have been some I liked, but that was mostly because those movies made you think. They weren't about gunfights alone.

"High Noon" — which premiered 60 years ago today — was such a movie.

It's been many years now, but I can still remember the day I first saw "High Noon."

I was in college, taking a film appreciation class. There were several such fine arts courses on the Arts and Sciences' basic requirements list. A student didn't have to take them all but did have to take two or three so enrollment in each was usually quite high every semester. To satisfy the demand, the school offered several classes of each every semester.

Choosing the film class to fulfill part of that particular academic requirement was a no–brainer for me. I have always enjoyed classic movies, and it turned out that the instructor liked to show movies in class, which met for two hours at a time, and then discuss them.

One day, he showed us "High Noon." That was hardly surprising. "High Noon" was — and still is — regarded as a classic.

What was surprising, I guess, was the fact that I had never seen it before. I was well acquainted with many other classic movies by the time I got to college, and we watched several of them in that class, but I had never seen that one. Strange.

Well, I was mesmerized.

I suppose part of it was the contrast. I mean, it was a late winter/early spring kind of day — cold, windy, a bit snowy. I remember being bundled up in layers of clothing as one typically had to be to go from building to building on the University of Arkansas campus at that time of year — and then practically breaking into a sweat the minute I walked into the seemingly always overheated fine arts building.

On the other hand, "High Noon" seemed to be set in a hot, dry, dusty Western town. I don't know what time of the year it was supposed to be, but I have heard that the location filming was done in the late summer and early fall.

The time of year really didn't play an important role in the story. It happened to be set in the West, but it could have been anywhere. The story was about a man's battle with his conscience — and a similar battle waged by his pacifist Quaker bride — when word spreads that a dangerous criminal is coming to town with his gang.

Then the struggle was to persuade the people of the town to stand with him.

The man was played by Gary Cooper, of course. Many critics thought he was miscast. He was nearly 30 years older than his love interest (Grace Kelly), but, in many ways, he was the best, the only choice.

He was definitely an heroic figure.

He was — arguably — the most heroic of Hollywood's leading men of that time. He had already won one Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of World War I hero Sgt. York — and he received another statuette for his performance as Will Kane, the sheriff in "High Noon."

Kelly, who was not yet 23 when the film was released, was making her debut in a leading role, and she did a spectacular job.

I had seen her in other movies before I saw "High Noon," but it was when I saw "High Noon" that I fell in love with her — one of those this–cannot–possibly–happen kind of things.

Kelly didn't win the Oscar for her performance in "High Noon." That kind of recognition came a couple of years later when she received the Best Actress Oscar for "The Country Girl."

But I've thought, ever since that brisk northwest Arkansas day when I first saw "High Noon," that it wouldn't have been the same without her.

Her career was a bit sluggish after "High Noon," though. But it picked up. She only made nine more movies before she retired from acting to assume the duties of princess of Monaco, but she made three ("Dial M for Murder," "To Catch a Thief" and "Rear Window") under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock.

She never made another film with Fred Zinnemann, her director on "High Noon."

Zinnemann's movies were nominated for a total of 65 Oscars and won 24 of them. But Kelly wasn't nominated for her work in "High Noon."

I'm not sure why that was so.

But her performance deserved a nomination.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie's Centennial

It seems like I've always known the words to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

But I have concluded that I must have learned them in school, in music class, which sounds like much more than it really was. It was nothing more than the occasional visit from a woman who played the piano and led the pupils in songs, one of which was "This Land Is Your Land."

I presume the woman was an employee of the school district who went around to the various schools. She wasn't a constant member of any school's faculty. She was never at our school long enough to learn any of our names.

In fact, I don't remember her name now.

But I still remember some of the verses of "This Land Is Your Land." And, for that, I will always be thankful to that music teacher, whoever she was.

Patriotic songs were staples of that music class, as I recall. We sang songs like "God Bless America" in that class — never once thinking about anyone who might be in our midst who had religious issues with the song and whose rights we might be trampling.

I guess it was taken for granted that we were all God–fearing Americans, even at tender ages like 6 or 7 or 8. That was sort of the way the adults in my hometown looked at things.

Funny thing was, Guthrie was a communist. Well, not exactly. Guthrie claimed that "the best thing that I did in 1936 was to sign up with the Communist Party," but he wasn't actually a member of the party.

He did sympathize with its platform, though, and he wrote a column for the communist newspaper, The Daily Worker. I guess he would more correctly be called a fellow traveler — he had kind of a parallel relationship with the communists without actually being one.

Well, I suppose that is another subject for another time.

Today marks a century since Woody Guthrie was born, and, no matter what one might think of his politics, it's as impossible not to think of him when you hear "This Land Is Your Land" as it is not to think of his son when you hear "Alice's Restaurant."

He was a troubadour of the American experience in the first half of the 20th century. He's been gone nearly 50 years ... and he is still missed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two Stories in One

I'd be willing to wager that you probably never heard of Sydney Walker.

He spent most of his career on stage, and his film career was largely made of character roles, but the odds are pretty good that you saw him, however briefly, in at least one movie.

Maybe it was in his role as the bus driver who had a bit of a crush on Mrs. Doubtfire. Or as a doctor in "Love Story." (That one goes way back.)

But my guess would be that it was in his role as the old man who switches places with a young bride (played by Meg Ryan) in "Prelude to a Kiss," which was released 20 years ago today.

Well, that is the one that I think of when I think of Sydney Walker. And that isn't surprising, either, is it? I mean, his other roles were sort of minor, hit–or–miss propositions.

He took second billing behind Baldwin and Ryan because they were the bankable stars, but his part was as demanding as any in the film — and was primarily responsible for much of the movie's relatively modest financial success.

It occurred to me, too — when I first saw this movie — that it was like two plots in one.

The first plot probably could have stood on its own merits and been made into a complete story. It was about how opposites really do attract — and that has been done by many people. To make it work in 1992 would have required a really unexpected twist to the storyline.

Ryan's character was kind of a freewheeling free spirit. Her spouse (played by Alec Baldwin) was a bit stuffy, which certainly has been done before. That was the basic plot of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" nearly 50 years ago — with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford — and that is precisely where the story of "Prelude to a Kiss" seemed to be taking the audience — until about halfway through.

Enter Sydney Walker, playing the aging (and terminally ill, although he doesn't know it) father of Kathy Bates, with whom he has been living since his wife died. He is frustrated with his life.

He gets on a train, choosing his destination at the last possible minute, and winds up at the wedding of Ryan and Baldwin.

No one in the wedding entourage can place him. And, while they're still puzzling over his presence, he asks if he can kiss the bride.

As he does, clouds pass by the sun, and, through supernatural interference, his soul is transferred to the bride's body. Meanwhile, the bride's soul is transferred to the old man's body, producing mayhem that was worthy of William Shakespeare a la "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

At first, neither realizes what has happened. But it is clear even before Baldwin confirms it to Walker (who is now playing Ryan's role).

And it was in that setting, with the two of them playing Scrabble in the kitchen, that Walker sums up life and observes to Baldwin that their love had been "a trip."

"It was bitchin' for awhile," he/she tells Baldwin with a sly grin that seems wholly inappropriate for Walker, but the audience could easily see the rough–edged Ryan saying it.

And Baldwin, in what may have been the most poignant line in the film (a truly sublime moment that spoke volumes about the maturity of loving relationships, all the more remarkable because it was delivered by one so young), says to Walker, "I adore you."

Walker, whose body was housing Ryan's spirit, still struggled with the host's physical ailments — shortness of breath, poor hearing, etc. — and couldn't hear what Baldwin said. Or, at least, he/she pretended that it was so.

Speaking a bit louder, Baldwin tells Walker that he/she would have hated the honeymoon in Jamaica — and Walker smiles a knowing smile. And the audience knows that he/she heard more than he/she let on.

I thought Walker pulled off his role splendidly. It couldn't have been easy to be convincing playing a young woman trapped in an old man's body. He deserved credit for that.

But so did Ryan, who wasn't seen nearly as much after the wedding scene but had to walk a similarly narrow line as an old man trapped in a young woman's body.

After their spirits had been restored to their bodies, Walker looked at his arms and remarked that it felt "like an old suit." It was a seamless transition.

"Prelude to a Kiss" successfully combined the first story — the one in which opposites attract — and merged it with the second — in which two people trade bodies involuntarily — and imagined the kind of problems the newlyweds would encounter.

Pretty neat trick.

Friday, July 06, 2012

'Butterflies Are Free' Was Infuriating, Touching

Mrs. Baker (Eileen Heckart): [Jill says she has to go to an audition] Then you're an actress?

Jill (Goldie Hawn): Well, yeah.

Mrs. Baker: Might I have seen you in anything, besides your underwear?

Jill: Um, not unless you went to Beverly Hills High School. I was in The Mikado. I played Yum–Yum.

Mrs. Baker: Yes, I'm sure you did.

I was a young boy when "Butterflies Are Free" made its theatrical debut 40 years ago today.

It addressed a lot of issues that were over my head at that stage in my life.

I was old enough at the time to know that I thought Hawn was sexy — most of my friends in those days had crushes on more obvious TV stars of the time, like Barbara Eden and Elizabeth Montgomery — and I knew from the TV commercials I had seen that Hawn spent a good deal of the movie romping around in a bra and panties.

For a young boy who was just beginning to notice girls, however, that was all that was necessary — although it wasn't anything Laugh–In viewers hadn't seen many times before.

And I probably could have gotten in to see the movie — it was rated PG, and PG movies in those days contained no nudity — but I grew up in the country, and I wasn't old enough to drive, not by a long shot.

So it was several years before I saw it. And that might have been a good thing. Because, when I did, I realized that it was about a lot more than I thought. It was about disability and parent–child relationships. It was about independence and overprotection. It was about love — romantic love and parental love.

It was about narcissism and generosity of spirit. And it was about how opposites really do attract.

Hawn played a free spirit who became friends with her neighbor, a blind man (Edward Albert). Through their relationship, modern audiences can catch glimpses of life as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original play on which the movie was based was set in Manhattan. The movie was set across the country in San Francisco, which seems more appropriate to the time.

Frankly, I never really thought the location mattered. No landmarks were ever really seen. Practically all of the film's action took place in the neighboring apartments occupied by Albert and Hawn — and nearly all of the dialogue was between those two as well.

If there hadn't been references to the location in the characters' dialogue, I don't think anyone could have guessed it.

There was a third major character in the drama — the role of Albert's mother, played by Eileen Heckart, who won her only Oscar for her performance as an overprotective mother who wrote children's stories.

The essence of the story was that Albert's character, still young and easily influenced, had been in a relationship with a girl (never seen) who encouraged him to move out of his mother's home and chart his own course in life as a musician.

When Albert took her advice, she took up with a guy she met at a party, leaving Albert feeling abandoned.

When he moved out of his mother's home, Albert had made an agreement with her — she would not visit him until two months had passed. About halfway through that time period, Hawn moved in next door and began wielding her influence on Albert.

Although the audience never saw Albert with his previous girlfriend, it appeared that Hawn picked up where the first girlfriend left off, extolling the virtues of independence. And Albert appeared only to eager to hand her the baton.

Enter Heckart with an unscheduled visit to her son's apartment, launching a war of wills between Heckart and Hawn — and Hawn, who had commitment issues, not unlike Albert's first girlfriend, eventually announced that she was moving in with a man who was directing a play in which she was to perform.

The development seemed to crush Albert, who started to speak of wanting to go home. But Heckart's character had undergone something of a transformation of her own, and she told her son that she wanted him to stay.

She reminded him of the stories she had told him as a child whenever he felt challenged — stories of a blind boy named Donnie Dark who faced all kinds of obstacles but was never prevented from accomplishing his goals. Those stories had been inspired by her experiences with her blind son and her desire to teach him to be self–reliant.

Heckart struck a nice balance between the shrewish character she was at first and the loving and caring individual she revealed herself to be late in the movie. She certainly walked a fine line with her role and was rewarded with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

For Heckart, I suppose, it was the most encompassing performance I ever saw her give. And what a performance it was — alternately infuriating and touching.

And that, I guess, was a pretty good summary of "Butterflies Are Free" — it was alternately infuriating and touching. Or, at least, the characters in it were.

In the process, though, I think they learned something about themselves, too.

And so did the audience.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Farewell to a Simple Country Sheriff

I never thought that Andy Griffith would die.

I had the same feeling when Fess Parker died in 2010.

But it's as true now as it was then.

I suppose, on a more realistic level, I knew that Griffith, like the rest of us mortals, would die someday. Even with that knowledge, however, the news of his death today at the age of 86 surprised me, shocked me.

When I was a teenager, I suppose the TV character that qualified for the title of everybody's favorite dad was Mr. Cunningham, Richie's father on Happy Days.

But he was only the latest in a long line of TV dads who embodied what most people probably wished their fathers were — or had been.

Lots of people will tell you that Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady or Cliff Huxtable were better dads. I don't know if that is true. But I can tell you that, for many of the people of my generation, Andy Taylor, the amiable sheriff of the country village of Mayberry, was the best dad on TV.

People of my generation grew up on Andy Griffith reruns, and we learned the lessons of life from Andy the father. Opie (Ron Howard) was merely the stand–in for those whose fathers were less than perfect.

I was kind of envious of Opie, to tell you the truth. My father was a pretty good father, as fathers go, but he spent a lot of his time at work when I was growing up — like most of the men of his generation — and he never really played much of a role in the pivotal moments of my life.

Andy Taylor was a busy fellow, too, but he always made time for Opie and always tried to answer his questions. Of course, they had a different kind of situation. Andy's wife had died so he was the only parent in the house. Aunt Bee was there, of course, but she wasn't the parent, and it wasn't her place to teach Opie the kinds of things parents teach their children.

Andy listened to Opie and treated him like an equal. Other adults sometimes spoke disparagingly of this, but, inevitably, Andy proved to them that it was better to talk to your child than to talk down to him.

And, to his credit, Andy wasn't afraid to admit when he was wrong or didn't know what to do. I remember an episode from late in the series, when a teenage Opie began hanging out with some musician friends of his and neglected his school work. Andy's approach was to give Opie just enough rope to hang himself, but family friend Mrs. Edwards showed him that it was possible for the two things to co–exist.

Sometimes it takes an outsider, Andy said, to show a parent what he ought to know.

Andy Griffith is gone, but he will never die. He lives on in nearly 250 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and in the movies he made.

That's the miracle of film and video tape. Future generations will learn the lessons of life from Andy Taylor even though he is gone.

Some things will never change.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

In a League By Themselves

I have always been a devotee of history.

Even as a child, I read biographies (beginning with a series of biographies that were written especially for young people that I discovered in the public library in my hometown), and, as I got older, I branched out into other types of history–oriented books.

By the time I was in high school, I was reading scholarly treatments of important periods and events in history — works that probably were well beyond my years (certainly well beyond the years of most of my peers).

Anyway, this fondness for history extended into movies. I have never been able to resist a movie that was a re–creation (or at least perceived to be a re–creation) of an actual event — especially if it is an event of which I have little or no prior knowledge.

(That must be the reason why I liked "Quiz Show," the story of the quiz show scandal in the late 1950s. It was about an event that occurred before I was born. So, too, was "Eight Men Out," the story of the Chicago Black Sox scandal.)

"A League of Their Own," which made its debut 20 years ago today, thoroughly fit my bill.

Ordinarily, I suppose, I prefer a movie that tells the whole truth and doesn't invent anything for dramatic effect. I make allowances for small details, and I don't mind a fictional story using an actual event as its setting (i.e., "Titanic" in 1997) as long as the depiction of the actual event takes few, if any, liberties with the truth.

Tom Hanks' character in the movie was fictional, but it was inspired largely by two real–life ballplayers, Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson. Foxx actually did manage a team in the All–American Girls Professional Baseball League, but that was after World War II, and Hanks' character did have the same first name (but not the same surname).

Hanks' character probably had more in common with Wilson, though. Wilson struggled with alcohol like Hanks' character, he was considered colorful because of his off–field activities (read: fights) and his marriage ended in divorce.

When I saw "A League of Their Own," I already knew the stories of Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson. I worked on a metropolitan sports copy desk for more than four years, and some of the older guys on the staff were diehard baseball fans who never hesitated to share their recollections of the old–timers.

Through them, I even knew that Foxx had managed an AAGPBL team, but I didn't know any more than that. For that matter, I didn't know anything more about the girls' baseball league — other than the basic facts that it had existed in the 1940s and 1950s (again, before my time) and it didn't exist anymore.

So I enjoyed learning something about the league, even if the story was almost entirely fictional.

Something else was fictional, too.

I guess everyone remembers Hanks telling a sniffling player, "There's no crying in baseball!" The American Film Institute ranks it 54th on its list of the Top 100 movie quotes.

It's a good line, and Hanks delivered it well, but it isn't true. I played baseball as a boy, and I saw other players — in baseball and in other sports — break down in tears following a loss, be it narrow or decisive.

The "thrill of victory and agony of defeat" wasn't just some promotional line. If you want to see just how emotional people can get about victory and defeat, tune in to the Summer Olympic Games in about four weeks.

I suppose, though, that "There's no crying in baseball!" line would be entirely appropriate if applied to Geena Davis' character, the star player and Hanks' virtual co–manager. She really didn't care about winning and losing. She only came to the AAGPBL's tryouts so her kid sister would get the chance.

The thing she did care about was the safe return of her husband from World War II. When he did come home, she dissolved into tears in his arms and left the team the following day.

But she also had her moments of regret.

I'll admit, there were times when I thought the story was a little too predictable, but, in general, I thought Penny Marshall did a decent job of directing. And the presentations of women who felt torn by their changing roles in society were honest and faithful to the women of that time.

When your project is the re–creation of an historical event or period, you can only take liberties for so long and with so much. (In the early 1990s, I remember hearing the politically correct folks of that day complaining about all the smoking in "JFK," and, a few years later, the same people complained about the smoking in "Apollo 13" — but the truth was that you couldn't do a realistic portrayal of those time periods without showing many adults smoking.)

Marshall could have used the opportunity to present an alternate reality, to make a feminist statement, but it wouldn't change the truth about life in the 1940s. That's a story that needed to be told.

And the truth was that, during World War II, women did take on new tasks and responsibilities that, previously, had been reserved for men.

But the men were in Europe or the Pacific. Someone had to, er, uh, step up to the plate.

When the AAGPBL was formed, it was filling a void left by the pro baseball players who had entered military service. When it became clear that the baseball players would be returning, many of the women of the AAGPBL went back to their homes and their domestic duties. And, for them, I suppose, their lives went on pretty much as they had before the war interrupted.

Some were not satisfied with that, though, not after experiencing life as a bread winner.

"A League of Their Own" was about a step forward for women — before anyone really knew about feminism.

To present it as a time of something that it really was not — a radical shift in societal gender roles, say — would have done the league and the women who played in it a disservice.

It wouldn't have been honest. It wouldn't have told the truth — and, in this case, at least, truth really was stranger than fiction.

The fiction that was written for the story was the harmless kind of fiction that, by and large, contributed to (rather than detracting from) the facts.

And, even after two decades, it is still a great summertime story — as just about any movie about baseball is, in my opinion.

On a hot summer night, I can do worse than watching something like "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" or "Pride of the Yankees."

Likewise, I can do worse than watching "A League of Their Own." Much worse.