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A REAL BUMMER

Nostalgic PBS Brooklyn Dodgers documentary gets caught looking

The Brooklyn Paper
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1955.

For those living in Brooklyn, it could only mean the one thing that’s been drilled into their heads well over 1,955 times.

It was during that fateful year that - I’ll remind you in case you forgot - the Brooklyn Dodgers finally brought a World Series pennant to their beloved Flatbush home.

And then, just two years later, the unthinkable happened: the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, tearing the heart out of the borough that had been a home to baseball seemingly since the beginning of time.

Since then, those Dodgers have become the stuff of legend - a myth passed down from Brooklyn father to Brooklyn son for as long as most can remember.

So, for those of you who just moved here (or if you’ve been living by yourself in Prospect Park forest for 40 years), "Dem Bums: The Brooklyn Dodgers" airing on PBS this weekend can fill you in. Just don’t expect much more.

Using footage from newsreels and talking-head interviews with former Dodgers and their arch-rival New York Yankees compiled over the past 20 years, "Dem Bums" provides few new insights into the team that will forever be known as "The Boys of Summer."

But it’s not as if producer-writer-director Marino Amoruso didn’t give it the old college try. When he spoke to GO Brooklyn about "Dem Bums," the Sheepshead Bay native explained that he was trying to produce the "definitive show on the Dodgers and their place in history" - but keep it to a watchable length.

Clocking in at just under an hour, Amoruso, who wrote and directed the 1991 doc "Of Moose and Men: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Story," was able to accomplish half his goal. As for producing the "definitive" program on the Dodgers, well ...

Over the years, there have been more than a few Dodgers retrospectives. Back in 1985, local news anchor Jim Jensen hosted an hour-long retrospective celebrating the 30th anniversary of Brooklyn’s World Championship on CBS TV - which I still have on tape and enjoy watching over and over.

Then there’s "The Original America’s Team" (available on video), a five-part mini-series dedicated to the Dodgers that, while extremely long, covered all the bases, so to speak.

If you want a great in-depth overview of the Dodgers, simply check out Ken Burns’ "Baseball" - and you don’t have to watch the nine "inning" epic. Episode seven, "The Capitol of Baseball," features much of the same time period covered by "Dem Bums" and, even at about two hours, is much easier to watch than Amoruso’s effort.

The main problem with "Dem Bums," is that one hour simply isn’t enough to do the team justice.

Narrator David Hartman (who also lent his voice to the PBS documentary "A Walk Through Brooklyn" last year) constantly speaks of all of the players’ "character," while never quite explaining what actually made them such good people.

The first half of the documentary consists of a retrospective of baseball in Brooklyn dating back to the birth of professional franchises in the then-City of Brooklyn in the late 1800s and leading up to the Dodgers’ 1955 championship and the abandonment of Brooklyn after the 1957 season. It’s concise and to the point, giving you a good idea as to how the Dodgers became such a prized treasure of the borough - albeit leaving out the reason behind their "Bums" nickname.

Then, the program goes on to talk about the core players that made up the dominant Dodger teams of the late ’40s through the ’50s, focusing, of course, on second baseman Jackie Robinson’s breaking of major league baseball’s color barrier.

According to Amoruso, the integration of baseball not only changed the course of the game itself, but it also "changed forever the course of American history."

A good point, but not something that should be said and forgotten. But the program doesn’t offer any interviews with historians (or anyone outside of the baseball world) which would corroborate, elaborate or reinforce Amoruso’s thesis.

Amoruso tries in vain to link the great Dodgers, like center fielder Duke Snider, first baseman Gil Hodges and right fielder Carl Furillo to this momentous event in Civil Rights history. Instead, he ends up falling into the same nostalgic, hero-worshipping trap that many Brooklynites slip into when speaking of the Dodgers.

His assessment of Hodges, for instance, as "a man of great character" is not backed up by anything more than the fact that the first baseman was great at driving in runs.

Also hard to swallow was the program’s music, which seemed to be a constant loop of a big-band tune that went on ad infinitum.

All told, the program is a good introduction to the "Boys of Summer" who played here so many years ago.

But who hasn’t heard that before?

 

"Dem Bums:the Brooklyn Dodgers" will premiere on PBS’ Channel 13 on March 6 at 8 pm.

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