Bad New Bears, The (1976): Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal

Michael Ritchie’s comedy, The Bad News Bears, stars Walter Matthau as the beer-guzzling, ex-minor-league ball player and professional pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker.

When he agrees to coach a little league team in San Fernando Valley, he fails to realize that he has inherited a bunch of peons and losers.

Since they play well-organized teams and lose, the parents threaten to disband the Bears to save the kids and themselves embarrassment. Not a quitter, Buttermaker refuses, though, and brings in a pair of ringers: Amanda Whurlizer (Tatum O’Neal), his ex-girlfriend’s tomboy daughter, and Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), a cigarette-smoking delinquent who’s a gifted athlete.

With their help, the Bears manage to change their losing ways and qualify for the championship, where they face their arch-rivals, the Yankees.

There’s good chemistry between Matthau and Tatum O’Neal, in one of her best post-Oscar winning roles.

This may have been the first time that kids were had using four-letter words in a major Hollywood picture.

The unanticipated success of this comedy, made by the gidted director Michael Ritchie in 1976, spawned the kids’ sports film boom of the 1980s and 1990s.

The film was followed by sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978, and a TV series.

Richard Linklater remade the first film in 2001.

Credits

MPAA: PG

Running time: 102 minutes.

Directed by Michael Ritchie

Released: April 7, 1976

DVD: February 12, 2002