TED WILLIAMS (TV) screenwriters: Aaron Cohen/from the essay “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” by John Updike; cinematographer: Rob Newman; editor: Andrew Morreale; music: Gary Lionelli; Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Margaret Grossi; HBO; 2009)
“A superb no-nonsense sports documentary on arguably baseball’s greatest hitter, Ted Williams.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A superb no-nonsense sports documentary on arguably baseball’s greatest hitter, Ted Williams. It’s narrated by Liev Schreiber and effectively uses archive ballgame footage, Williams’ memorable and very emotional last public appearance in the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, interviews with Ted, ballplayers, friends and family to give us a close look at the tempestuous heroic star, warts and all.
Ted was born in San Diego to an absentee dad and a Salvation Army mom, who cared more about saving others than her own family. As a schoolboy he thrived on baseball and knew it would be his path in life. The two greatest ballplayers of the 1940s, the Red Sox’ Williams and the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio, got the full media treatment–something Joe handled with grace and Ted couldn’t handle. Ted is booed by fans in Boston and the press write some cruel things about him, and in his second year he reacts in a self-described rash and immature way and treats the press with contempt and no longer tips his cap to fans after home runs.
In 1942 Ted becomes a marine pilot and during the war serves as a flight instructor. Upon his return to Fenway Park in 1946 he becomes a 400 hitter, the last one to accomplish this rare feat and establishes himself as baseball’s premiere hitter. Called up as a pilot again in 1950 during the Korean War, Ted flies 39 combat missions and in total misses five years of his prime to military service. Returning to the mediocre Red Sox in 1953, at age 34, Ted continues to excel as a hitter and gets the first $100,000 contract. His personal life is marred by three divorces. But Ted takes solace as an avid fisherman and later in life becomes a revered American folk hero figure, someone who gives of himself generously to the Jimmy Fund. In his old age he suffers a stroke and is cared for by his son, John Henry, from his third wife, who upon his dad’s death has the kooky idea of freezing his body.
During every turn of this biopic we are rightfully reminded that Ted was a special person and player, someone who had the guts to do it his way– even if sometimes wrong. But the one thing he could always do right is hit a baseball–there are no arguments about that. This is one of the better sports documentaries because it tells you the essentials and doesn’t go off on unnecessary tangents. By the end, you have a pretty good idea what Ted was like. As, Bob Feller, the great pitcher of Ted’s time for the Cleveland Indians said: “Trying to sneak a fastball past Ted Williams was like trying to sneak a sunbeam past a rooster in the morning.”
REVIEWED ON 7/24/2009 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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