As good-natured and inspirational as its subject, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" commemorates the fabled Detroit Tigers slugger who --- as Jackie Robinson did for blacks later on --- combated bigotry by becoming baseball's first prominent Jewish star. The cleanly handled docu is a natural for broadcast outlets, with a fair shot at limited theatrical release.

As good-natured and inspirational as its subject, “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” commemorates the fabled Detroit Tigers slugger who — as Jackie Robinson did for blacks later on — combated bigotry by becoming baseball’s first prominent Jewish star. The cleanly handled docu is a natural for broadcast outlets, with a fair shot at limited theatrical release.

The Brooklyn-raised, six-foot-four Greenberg entered an early-1930s sports world (and very Protestant-conservative Midwestern home-team turf) where anti-Semitism was rampant; hecklers were sometimes even planted in the stands by opposing teams. But his considerable abilities — he came within three round-trippers of breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in an era when shorter seasons and technical factors made such feats far more difficult than now — soon made him a hero nonetheless. Needless to say, his role-model status among Jewish youth was second to none.

If Greenberg ever said or did a mean thing, you won’t find evidence of it here. Though he died of cancer in 1986, the 14-years-in-the-making docu provides plenty of interview footage; he comes off as pleasingly modest about his achievements, and philosophical about his disappointments (which included two near-miss World Series losses and a humiliating trade to a low-ranking National League team before retirement). Near a long career’s end, Greenberg provided encouragement to rookie teammate Robinson, who faced even greater prejudice.

Helmer Aviva Kempner (“Partisans of Vilna”) assembles a brisk package that features commentary from surviving family, fellow players (including Bob Feller and Charlie Gehringer) and such friends and fans as Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz.

Plentiful newsreel footage is abetted by vintage baseball-themed Hollywood feature clips and novelty songs, some of them direct hymns to “Hankus Pankus” himself. Tech aspects in vid-transferred feature are fine.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

Production

A Ciesla Foundation presentation. Produced, directed, written by Aviva Kempner.

Crew

Camera (color), Jerry Feldman, Kevin Hewitt, Tom Hurwitz, Tom Kaufman, Christopher Li, Scott Mumford; editor, Marian Sears Hunter; co-editor, Judith Sobol; music designer, Henry Sapoznik; music supervisor, Dan Liberstein; sound editor, Dan Liberstein; associate producer, Ari Daniel Pinchot. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, June 30, 1999. (In S.F. Jewish Film Festival.) Running time: 89 MIN.
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