Female Filmmaker Friday: A League of Their Own, 1992 (dir. Penny Marshall)
I can’t even remember the first time I saw this film, but I know I was very young. I’m not a big baseball fan. I never have been. But I love this film. I love what it represents and I love this history that is showcases. I love the characters and I love the costume design and I love the story and basically, I just love this movie.
The film uses a frame narrative to tell the story of one of two sisters Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), both of whom played on the Rockford Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. I think this is a really effective way to tell a broad story in a universal way.
Dottie is already married, but her little sister Kit (Lori Petty) is not and when a scout offers them a shot at the tryouts for the newly formed AAGBPL, Kit is rearing to go, Dottie is apprehensive. Before that scene, we see that Dottie is always trying to look out for Kit and Kit desperately wants to branch out on her own, even if Dottie’s advice (in life and/or baseball) is often valid. There’s a great scene where Kit pleads with Dottie, asking her to have this one thing before she settles down to married life – and so Kit can get out of this town where she’s “nothing”. It’s a real bummer that Kit seems to always be in her big sister’s shadow and even her ticket out of this life is hitched to her sister’s destiny. As a sibling myself, I can tell you sibling rivalry – as silly as it often is – is a real strong emotion.
On the way we meet Marla (Megan Cavanagh), who was raised by a single dad (Eddie Jones) and is not what one would call “a looker”. The scout (Jon Lovitz) isn’t interested, despite her being the best hitter he’s probably ever seen and a switch-hitter to boot! These girls gotta be lookers *and* good at baseball! Hellllllo one of my earliest introductions to the unfair standards put on women. Of course, Kit and Dottie refuse to go without Marla and all three get to go try for their dreams. It’s a great moment of sororal support – one of many in the film.
Before the girls begin training, they also get make-overs and charm lessons, because, again, being able to play ball is not enough. Everyone in the league must also be “a lady” with grace and perfect manners. What poppycock!
We meet the rest of the Rockford Peaches and they meet their new coach, washout Jimmy Dougan (Tom Hanks). This is one of the great introduction scenes – Jimmy doesn’t talk to anyone. He just goes straight to a urinal and pees for like five minutes straight. An iconic Hanks moment for sure.
There’s great scenes of baseball, sure, but my favorite parts of the films are when they’re in the bus and bonding as women in a way a lot of these girls never did. One of my favorite moments is when “All the Way” Mae Mordabito (Madonna) – a taxi dancer (which I had no idea what that was when I first saw this movie, but now thanks to Barbara Stanwyck and pre-code films, know quite a bit about), teaches illiterate Shirley (Ann Cusack) how to read by having her read a smutty book out loud. At first quite a few of the girls are shocked, but eventually they’re all listening in to the salacious story. I just really love how so much of this movie is about women helping each other, with little-to-no judgement between classes and beliefs.
Throughout the film Jimmy and Dottie form a friendship built on mutual respect and it’s another great lesson in the movie. Never once does director Penny Marshall hint at a romance between these two. Dottie is happily married and the only reason this is brought up is because she plans to quit playing ball and start a family as soon as her husband returns from the war. Jimmy continually tries to tell her that she owes it to her talent to keep doing what she’s so good at. But the difference between Dottie and Kit and Jimmy is that she’s not as passionate about the game as they are – or at the very least, she’s convinced herself that she’s not. I love that this aspect of the film is left a little undefined for the audience. Does Dottie really not care? Is she truly happy to just be a wife and mother? Does she really wish she had the freedom of her little sister to make her way on her own merits as a ballplayer? There’s no judgement on her choice and there’s plenty of married women and mothers in the league. What Penny Marshall is spotlighting here is that this choice to have to be one thing or the other – professional or wife/mother – is a choice that only women really understand (and sometimes, it’s not even a choice). If we lived in a society where men were expected to be “just” caretakers, the way women were for so long, maybe they would know what this feels like. But since that’s not really the world we live in, this is very much a women’s issue. It’s good to see that society is slowly shifting to 50/50 between men and women and domesticity, but it’s important to remember what it was once like – and what it is still like for many women even today.
I just had to include this shot. For one, because it shows the mothers I referred to earlier, who played ball but had to take their child with them on the road. This kid is a little shit and his antics make for some great comedy throughout the film. Two, because it is one of the few moments where the film delves into the male gaze – but it’s a child. What is Penny Marshall saying about men and their desire to gaze on women by showing a child who can’t help himself? It reminds me of a similar scene in the “Pettin’ in the Park” sequence of Gold Diggers of 1933.
Of course I had to have this. THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! Another truly iconic moment in film history.
The reason behind the forming of the AAGBPL was because so many of the men who played professional ball had gone off to fight in WWII, but of course people at home needed baseball – it’s the American pastime, after all. Other than Dottie, another women, Betty “Spaghetti” Horn, has a husband off fighting the war. When a telegram comes from the War Department,everyone knows it’s either for Betty or Dottie. There’s a moment as Jimmy is bringing the telegram over to the two women where Betty looks at Dottie briefly. You can tell in that moment she’s so conflicted because she doesn’t want it to be her husband, but she feels for her friend as well. When it does go to Betty, she naturally falls to pieces and immediately all the women surround her in love and compassion, embracing her because all her strength is gone. This is something women do often – a sororal embrace. It’s beautiful and it’s not depicted in cinema nearly enough. We get a lot of cat-fighting and woman-on-woman hate, but rarely do we see these moments of love and tenderness that women so often share. We’re huggers by nature and it’s something that should be celebrated.
A few scenes later, Dottie husband Bob (Bill Pullman) returns home wounded. She decides to leave the league before the big championship in order to spend time with her husband. This comes right around the same time that Dottie and Kit’s rivalry gets so bad that Kit transfers to another team.
This, of course, leads to a showdown between Dottie’s team (she comes back in time for the championship) and the Racine Belles – Kit’s team. This is like any other World Series type sequence in a film, with rivals and all that, but you also have this layer of sororal love between Kit and Dottie. They don’t want to hurt each other. They’re teammates are telling each other it’s just a game – play the best you can. But you can see them struggle. Eventually, Kit’s team wins – she wants it more and she gives it her all. Dottie is both disappointed and so proud of her littler sister. I love this scene after the World Series with the little girls and their mothers. They see what women can do and they’ll grow up knowing there’s more opportunities for them as women than they ever thought possible.
Then we get this beautiful reunion of sisters. Dottie’s going to go home, she’s done with baseball. Kit’s going to going to stay and make a life for herself away from their home town. Dottie asks Kit to visit and Kit says she will, but there’s a sense that this is really a goodbye to their childhoods – to their girlhoods, to their sisterhoods. They don’t life without each other and it’s going to be hard to get used to it, but it’s also an exciting time for both girls to grow into the women they’re to become.
We then cut back to the present day, meeting all the women as they’ve grown into older women. The women who played in the league are being added to the Baseball Hall of Fame and we see a fictionalized version of the exhibit.
The AAGPBl lasted from 1943 til 1954 and over 600 women played during that time. As wonderful as that is, it’s depressing to think the league only lasted less than a decade in the post-war years, before interest waned and it had to shut down. It’s also depressing to think that if 600 women played in that league, why don’t we have more of their stories made into films? How many baseball movies do we have about men? SO MANY. A League of Their Own was added to the National Film Registry in 2012 by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
Posted on June 6, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged 1992, A League of Their Own, Ann Cusack, Babaloo Mandel, Bill Pullman, Bitty Schram, Eddie Jones, Geena Davis, Jon Lovitz, Justin Scheller, Lori Petty, Lowell Ganz, Madonna, Megan Cavanagh, Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Tracy Reiner. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
I always enjoy reading your insightful views on films, Marya. I forget to remind you how brilliant you are.
And now of course I want to rewatch this movie. It’s been too long.
It is a shame that Penny Marshall has not directed a feature film since 2001. That needs to change. Also, it’s heartbreaking when Betty Spaghetti’s husband dies.
Just reading about Betty’s scene makes my eyes sting a bit. Thank you for the great article.
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