on June 19, 2001
Upon its release, 61* immediately became a classic. The baseball scenes are the best of any movie ever. You never feel like you're watching actors. But the key to the movie is its realism. Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper are extraordinary as Mantle and Maris, respectively. Everything from their batting stances to the way they stand in the lockerroom is perfect. And older baseball fans will love seeing Yankee Stadium at its finest, complete with Bob Shephard as himself. In the broadcast booth comes more of 61*'s subtle brilliance. Behind Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto is a WPIX 11 sign, which was the Yankees' flagship station for 40 years. It may not seem like much, but it is just part of the painstaking efforts to make the movie as real as possible. What many baseball movies lack is dialogue from broadcasters. They tend to say the score, situation, etc., but rarely tell stories, which---as any baseball fan knows---is how most air time is spent. 61*, however, features several moments where Rizzuto talks about lasagne he ate at a restaurant, wishing happy birthdays to fans, and joking about how the outfielders positioned themselves when he was batting. Baseball fans should eat that stuff up. The movie has minor flaws---Bob Cerv began the season with LA, for instance---but nothing that detracts from its overall greatness. Everyone involved in this movie, from Billy Crystal to all the actors, did their best to recreate the most famous season any sport has ever seen. If you are a baseball fan, you absolutely must see this movie. If you're not a baseball fan, you should still see it. Fifty years from now, 61* will be as much a classic as Field of Dreams or Bull Durham.
on July 22, 2008
I am always looking for sports-themed movies for my young son, and he is especially interested in non-fiction movies. ("Miracle" and "Rudy" are two great examples.)
I read the reviews, and thought we'd give this a try. I noticed that this was marked "not rated" and just hoped for the best! Whoops! I am not offended by swearing in the context of baseball. But this has excessive use of the "F" word, which I just wasn't expecting. It was a big surprise and quite disappointing.
I only offer this review for other parents who may be contemplating this movie for kids and younger teens.
on August 5, 2004
61* belongs on the top-shelf with the great non-fiction sports movies like BRIAN'S SONG and EIGHT MEN OUT. This is Billy Crystal's love letter to the 1961 Yankees, and to his credit it doesn't blink or flinch in its treatment of that greatest of childhood heroes, Mickey Mantle.
In 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle took aim at Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a season. Barry Pepper plays the young and reclusive Maris with a haunting sadness, Thomas Jane plays the charismatic Mantle with an easy going honesty that masks an emotionally and physically injured young man. Pepper is a dead-ringer for Maris, and both actors get under the skin of the characters they're portraying. There are times when you forget they're not really Maris and Mantle. Couple their performances with 61*'s meticulous attention to detail and you've got a baseball fan's dream movie.
The dvd comes with a commentary track with director Billy Crystal, text biographies of Maris and Mantle, and a `making of' documentary. You should watch the movie before the documentary, since it contains a lot of scenes from the movie.
Billy Crystal grew up during that time, as he tells us in the informative documentary that accompanies his fine film. He KNOWS what Yankee stadium looked like. He knows every bit of trivia about all the Yankees - their batting stances, their body language, even the way they stood in the on-deck circle.
As we discovered with McGwire and Sosa, then Barry Bonds, some of the most cherished records in any American sport are the Home Run records. We dig the long ball.
It's difficult for someone like me who was not born yet to completely imagine what it must have been like to have TWO awesome home run hitters on the SAME team bearing down on that record - and to make it even better, the record was held by Babe Ruth, who was ALSO from the same team. The Yankees, love 'em or hate 'em (I'm a National League Fan, myself) are the most legendary team in baseball, and this year was one of their most legendary.
That forms the setting for this truly entertaining story. Mickey Mantle had the movie-star aura and Roger Maris was a quiet family man from the midwest. EVERYONE was pulling for Mickey to break the record. Hardly anyone outside his own family was pulling for Roger.
It was interesting to me to see in the film just how close Mantle and Maris were in real life, and the movie argues that they probably both had a positive effect on one another. Certainly the film hints that Roger's decency as a man influenced Mickey to concentrate a little more on the game and less on drinking and womanizing. At the same time the movie shows us that as the pressure of approaching the record began bearing down on Maris, he had no bigger supporter than Mickey Mantle.
Barry Pepper looks so much like Roger Maris that you can hardly tell the difference between the two in the documentary accompanying. Thomas Jane also has an uncanny resemblance to Mantle and they both obviously studied the newsreel footage for hours because everything from their posture to their home run swings is a faithful duplication. Baseball movies in the past have often showed actors taking a weak swing with a cut to a ball flying majestically out of the park. Billy Crystal must have used some fantastic CGI imagery to produce shots where you see Mantle and Maris take their swing and without moving the camera, follow the ball arcing up into the upper deck of Yankee stadium. Awesome.
on July 1, 2001
Since I grew up in Fargo, NoDak, of COURSE I knew about Roger Maris and his '61 in 1961' legend. In fact, one of my relatives used to help volunteer at the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament, which raises money for Shanley High School (Roger's alma mater) and the Roger Maris Cancer Center. So I was really looking forward to seeing the film, 61*, when it appeared on HBO this spring. I was not disappointed!
Even if you aren't a baseball fan, you will really love this film. It's a story about friendship, about persevering in spite of everything, and how perceptions can be made (or broken) by the media. If you love baseball, I think you will LOVE this story. It has everything. I think Billy Crystal spun some magic here to make this story come to life. If you can, get the DVD version when this movie comes out, because the "Making of" featurette is wonderful. Billy shows how they took Tiger Stadium in Detroit and made it into the Yankees Stadium of old. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane are absolutely fantastic as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The rest of the cast are splendid, too.
I can't keep from saying more nice things about this film. I am anxiously awaiting its release to DVD. I definitely want to own a copy of this, along with the special features.
Now if the Hall of Fame would just find it in their collective hearts to induct Roger Maris, I would be a happy fan.
on July 18, 2001
I don't know much about baseball, and I didn't know anything about Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle for that matter either. But when this movie debuted on HBO, I was glued to the screen. I couldn't believe how this movie roped me in and didn't let go until it was over. In fact, when it was over, I was wishing for more. I'm not a huge sports fan, but I am a huge movie fan, and this movie is one of my new all time favorites. I highly reccomend it to everyone.
on December 29, 2001
"61*" tells the story of the epic home-run battle between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. For the better part of the season, the sports world stood on its ear as the New York Yankee outfielders belted homer after homer in their quest of baseball's most hallowed record, the 60 round-trippers posted by Babe Ruth in 1927. While game re-creation is marvelously done (thanks to some sprucing up of old Tiger Stadium, made to look like pre-renovation Yankee Stadium), Billy Crystal's labor of love is really more of an insightful look into the outer and inner pressures that threatened Maris' sanity. Physically, Barry Pepper is a virtual dead ringer for Maris. At first sight, Thomas Jane doesn't remind you that much of Mantle, yet the more you see the movie, the more like the Mick he looks. Crystal pulls no punches in his portrayal of the crude yet beloved Mantle - a womanizer and the antithesis of his good friend Maris, ever the family man. Anthony Michael Hall (yes, the same actor who starred years ago in "Sixteen Candles" and "Weird Science"), plays the great Whitey Ford, but it's regrettably only a minor role. Still, one can see why the Yankees called Whitey the "Chairman of the Board." Another great nuance: Hoyt Wilhelm, who retired Maris in the ninth inning of Game 154, preventing him from tying Ruth's record in the "prescribed" number of games set forth by baseball commissioner Ford Frick, is perfectly played by former major-league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who holds his head in tilted fashion just like Wilhelm did. While I question how much a non-baseball fan would like the movie, for an old Mantle-Yankee fan like yours truly, it's definitely a must-see and must-own.
on June 21, 2006
Most films that try to capture the significance of a sporting event from a by-gone era suffer because they fail to attach it to any historical context. Upon first view, I thought that "61*" was somewhat guilty of that. It was an unfair opinion because at that time I had just finished watching "Seabiscuit" and "Miracle", both of which are slightly superior films. Now, however, I've had a change of mind after a second viewing. Billy Crystal has done an enormous job in capturing the M&M boys of 1961.
Crystal has all the bases covered (bad pun intended). He covers Maris' can-do spirit as he approaches the Babe's single-season home run mark. However, Crystal also covers the hostility this drew from the press and the fans. Barry Pepper does a great job conveying Maris' quiet suffering that the anger spawned. Meanwhile, Maris' friend, the beloved Mickey Mantle is also nearing Ruth's record, but doesn't generate such animosity. Off the field, however, Crystal shows us Mantle making that changeover from a fun-loving young man to an almost self-destructing adult. Around these two men, the press--specifically the voracious New York press--circles like vultures.
The side characters are fairly well-rounded and well-portrayed: specifically, Anthony Michael Hall as Whitey Ford.
Crystal's fondness for the era is evident in every scene. Fortunately, he doesn't wax too nostalgic. Instead, he gives us an honest view of a time when baseball was barely clinging to its innocence, and of a man who did not deserve the hostility and the asterisk that haunted him.
on September 6, 2005
I found this to be one of the best baseball movies to come out in recent years. Both of the actors look the part of Mantle and Maris, especially Maris. For those of us fortunate enough to remember this 1961 season it brought back a lot of memories. I do want to make note of two things in particular that caught my eye, one good and one bad. The person who played the part of Hoyt Wilhelm when he came in to pitch to Maris had the same mannerism as Wilhelm in the way he tilted his head. The movie also showed a "fan" throwing a chair in then Briggs Stadium in Detroit at Maris in right field. This incident did NOT take place in 1961. It took place in 1960 when Yankee first baseman Bill Skowron hit a disputed home run in the right field stands that Tiger fans thought to be foul. When the Yankees took the field in their half of the inning (7th or 8th) someone in the upper deck in right field threw the back of a chair at Maris. I know this to be true. I was there above the Yankee bullpen in right field.
on September 16, 2005
GOOD ENOUGH TO BE CONSIDERED A GREAT FILM - NOT JUST A GREAT SPORTS FLICK!
I must admit, I have seen most of the baseball movies that have been released going back to the "Pride Of The Yankees". "61*" has more realism than any other film since "Eight Men Out". However, "61*" has more than realism, it has magic -- real baseball legends' magic -- which is like lightning caught in a bottle.
How did Billy Crystal do it? The story is perfectly set as a period piece and opens on opening day 1961 with well-recognized character actors playing glib, cutthroat sports writers prancing all over the field after a scoop. Roger Maris is to receive the 1960 MVP from Babe Ruth's widow and we go from there. The mood is set, the pace is quick, and then we have our two heros, Maris and Mantle who are incredibly portrayed by Barry Pepper as Maris and Thomas Jane as Mantle. Their scenes with each other and with their teammates and families tell us all we need to know about them. Crystal has the right casting and script to show rather than tell, and the proof is in the pudding. We see how different Mantle and Maris were and we feel for both of them. Seeing Mantle graciously pass his prime and become an underdog to Maris in front of my eyes revealed why Mantle had such an enormous following in the twilight of his career [1965-68] when he really was no longer himself on the field. As Maris put it, "you have a way, Mickey". He certainly did.
Maris seemed such a tragic figure that I beleived him when he said he did not want the record and when he told his wife late in the season that he wished he had been traded when rumors whirled early in the season. Wow! Mantle, on the other hand, is depicted as a lovable philanderer and somehow plays great while he appears to be growing old and sick right in front of us. His inner pain is depicted to us through a number of emotional scenes. Some are with Mantle and Maris alone, others are with Mantle, Maris and teammates, and one is on the phone with his wife "Merlin". One can really see how Mantle's personal shortcomings could be so easily overlooked when we see his charisma and truly good nature.
Anthony Michael Hall as Whitey Ford and Bruce McGill as Ralph Houk are sensational in their supporting roles and come across exactly the way one might wish they would in some very tense situations. Houk comes across as both a giant of a man and a true baseball leader. Whitey Ford is Mantle's truest friend and in this movie one can see why. Also, Chris McDonald [Mel Allen] and Joe Grifasi [Phil Rizzuto] add some welcome comic realism as Yankee announcers we couldn't go without. On the opposing side, we have Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick's intrigues [Donald Moffit] who consults with the sportwriters and turns up at a press conference with the famous * [asterisk] for all records in this new, longer 162-game season as a ruse to prevent the M&M boys from breaking Ruth's home run record. It's a small surprise that this film continues for over 2 hours.
Surrounding this time capsule, so to speak, we have the recent Mark McGwire home run record of several years ago. We have the Maris family [including Roger's widow] of the present on hand for McGwire's record-breaking shot the way Ruth's widow was in 1961. 61* begins and ends in the present. As the past fades back to the present at the end, I feel a certain sadness for time gone by. All in all, the film is quite an emotional piece and I recommend it to anyone whether or not you're a fan of the game.