'Bang the Drum Slowly': THR's 1973 Review

Bang the Drum Slowly - H - 1973
De Niro proves himself to be one of the best and most likeable young character actors in movies with this performance.

On Aug. 26, 1973, Paramount unveiled baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly at its world premiere in New York. The film went on to nab an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category for Vincent Gardenia at the 46th Academy Awards ceremony. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

The film version of Mark Harris' novel Bang the Drum Slowly, produced by Maurice and Lois Rosenfield and directed by John Hancock from Harris' screenplay, is not a completely successful movie. But it has three uncommonly fine performances by Robert De Niro, Michael Moriarty and Vincent Gardenia, a rich sense of character and a healthy, often droll attitude towards its subject matter. 

De Niro is a catcher for a fictional baseball team, the New York Mammoths. When his roommate (Moriarty) learns that De Niro is dying of Hodgkin's disease, he takes it upon himself to keep the news from the team. 

Such a story is hardly the stuff of cheerful movies but the wonderful accomplishment of Bang the Drum Slowly is that it considers the meaning of life in terms of death without resorting to the cheap, insulting tricks many such movies hurl at the audience. Instead, this movie is a gentle comedy with a sad sense of life slipping away. 

De Niro is one of the least likely tragic heroes around; he chews tobacco, greases his hair, talks like the simple, unlettered country boy he is. De Niro proves himself to be one of the best and most likeable young character actors in movies with this performance. 

Moriarty is an actor who hides his art, and he holds the movie together with his enormously sympathetic presence. He's the polar opposite of De Niro — witty, educated, sensible, mature. With the confidence of all truly gifted actors, Moriarty lets the character's strength creep up on the audience, suggesting reservoirs of depth and emotion with remarkable economy of gesture. 

Vincent Gardenia is hilarious as the team's tough-talking manager who even hires a private detective to find out why Moriarty is so protective of De Niro. 

The movie sometimes loses track of its story and rambles for puzzling stretches of unfocused scenes. But it succeeds best with the breezy, warm scenes of baseball life and with such sterling character bits as Selma Diamond's nosey telephone operator and Barbara Babcock and Maurice Rosenfield as the nouveau riche owners of the team. 

If director John Hancock's work is sometimes atmospherically colorless, he pulls scenes together that seem to be going nowhere and acquits himself most notably with the performers. 

Phil Foster is excellent as a baseball coach. Ann Wedgeworth, who walked off with Scarecrow, scores again as De Niro's hooker fiancee who's really after his life insurance. Patrick McVey is moving as De Niro's father. Heather MacRae is fine as Moriarty's wife. Tom Ligon is a cowboy baseball player. Andy Jarrell, Tom Signorelli, Danny Aiello and Marshall Efron stand out in smaller parts. 

Richard Shore's lucid photography, Richard Marks' film editing and Robert Gundlach's production design make Bang the Drum Slowly a handsome, smooth movie. — Alan R. Howard, originally published on Aug. 3, 1973