[box cover]

A League of Their Own: Special Edition

Somewhere right around the middle of Tom Hanks' filmography, an interesting transformation takes place. Rather abruptly, the erstwhile Bosom Buddy left the broadly comic days of movies like Bachelor Party, Splash, and The Money Pit behind him in favor of darker, more complicated comedies like Punchline and Joe Versus the Volcano, as well as flat-out dramas like Bonfire of the Vanities. Unfortunately, most of them tanked at the box office (Bonfire was a particularly painful flop), and — hard as it is to believe, considering his current status as America's favorite Everyman — Hanks' reputation took a hit, too. Which might explain why he went after the role of Jimmy Dugan in Penny Marshall's "girls' baseball" film, A League of Their Own (1992). Scruffy and world-weary, Dugan is a faded sports hero who's seen better days; his rehabilitation and redemption on-screen in Marshall's movie offered Hanks a similar opportunity to add some fresh sparkle to his own star. (And it worked — he followed League with Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Forrest Gump and hasn't looked back yet…) Of course, as interesting as Hanks' story on- and off-screen is, A League of Their Own isn't really about Jimmy Dugan: It's about the women of the All-American Girls Baseball League, which was started in 1943 as a way to entertain baseball fans while the male players were off fighting in World War II. Mixing plenty of fact with its dramatic fiction, League focuses on sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), who leave their Oregon dairy farm behind to hit the road with the Rockford Peaches. Their teammates include shy Marla (Megan Cavanagh), mouthy Doris (Rosie O'Donnell), promiscuous Mae (Madonna), and an outfield's worth of other funny, talented women (look for Tea Leoni in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her part as a player on a rival team). Drunk, bitter Dugan joins the team as manager after owner/candy bar magnate Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) offers it to him as a last-chance position; thanks to the influence of level-headed Dottie, Dugan eventually starts to clean up his act. Meanwhile, Dottie and Kit have sibling rivalry issues to deal with, the league faces shutdown due to lack of interest, and the war rages on, occasionally intruding on the Peaches' halcyon nine-inning days.

*          *          *

More than just an interesting look at a story that might otherwise have been forgotten as a historical footnote, A League of Their Own is a smart, funny movie that continues to entertain with every new viewing. Thankfully, it's because director Marshall and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers, Splash) took the time to create memorable, fleshed-out characters and cast them well. Most of the principal actors turn in career-highlight performances, from Davis as Dottie, who seems perfect on the outside but is really just as confused and scared as anyone else, to Hanks' Dugan, a character who perfectly combines the actor's talents at both drama and comedy (Dugan gets several of the film's best one-liners). Petty does a good job capturing a little sister's hopeless jealousy of her older, prettier, more talented sibling, and Madonna and O'Donnell are both excellent — interestingly, O'Donnell's part was rewritten to suit her after Marshall decided that the comedienne had to be in the movie. Thanks to Marshall's insistence that all her actresses attend a rigorous baseball camp before filming began, the action scenes are just as convincing as the dramatic ones — these ladies can really play. It's the kind of enthusiasm and commitment that often helps distinguish a memorable movie from one that's merely entertaining. After a previous bare-bones release, Columbia TriStar steps up to the plate with a two-disc special edition of A League of Their Own. Disc One, which is two-sided, offers the film in both anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan transfers; both are strong and clear. Audio options include Dolby 4.0 Surround and French 2.0 Surround, plus English subtitles. Disc One also offers a new audio commentary in which Marshall, Petty, Cavanagh, and Tracy Reiner (Marshall's daughter, who played Rockford Peach Betty "Spaghetti" Horn) wax reminiscent about the film. A slightly more dynamic approach to the same material is found on Disc Two, which offers the new 52-minute "making-of" documentary "Nine Memorable Innings," as well as trailers, the music video for Madonna's "This Used to Be My Playground," cast and crew filmographies, and 15 deleted scenes with optional introductions by Marshall (most of them, in a rare exception to the deleted-scenes rule, are actually quite good and were cut only for length). Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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