johnlink ranks HEADIN’ HOME (1920)

I never knew a film like this existed. In 1920, shortly after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, this film was made. A 25-year-old Ruth plays a character named ‘Babe’. It tells the (not) true story of his young life, and sort of tells how he became a baseball player. The idea of seeing a young Ruth playing baseball in a contemporaneous movie absolutely sold me on seeing this.

I watched HEADIN’ HOME (1920) on 10.16.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a strange film. I came to it wanting to see 1920 baseball, and was provided maybe 3 minutes of poorly shot footage of it. But, rather than being disappointed  I found myself mostly enjoying this movie.

Babe is a young man living in a small town with his sister and mother. He is noble, congenial, and clumsy. He walks around shaving a tree into a baseball bat. He defends his sister from a mean dog-catcher, he courts a woman, he breaks a window playing a pick-up game of baseball.

The first half of this movie is played for pure comedy. The situations are straight out of the era’s Keaton-Arbuckle sort of set-ups, though Ruth is obviously no Keaton or Arbuckle. Instead, the film plays to his strengths as a nice guy getting into mildly silly situations. Had this not been Babe Ruth I was watching I may have enjoyed it less, and may have been more critical. Perhaps that is not fair, but that is the truth.

After Babe ends up playing in the one featured baseball game, the film turns  into more of a drama. The focus becomes he courting of the woman and whether or not they can be together. The comedy doesn’t entirely fall out, but it takes a serious back seat.

The filmmaking is odd. The editing often seems random, especially when large crowds are used to show a location we understand to be a small town. However, there is some absolute talent here as well. One great edit starts with the title card “While the Highlanders wuz all bone and muscle — mostly Bone”. We then see the supposedly lame Highlanders team. This cut is followed by a shot of a group of boys with polio taking their seats in the crowd, equating the team with the weakness of a polio victim. Harsh and hyperbolic humor, but effective.

Ruth does a nice job, he’s effective in playing the aw-shucks everyman who becomes a big deal. I wish we got to see more baseball, and the comedic first half is much more entertaining than the melodramatic second half, but this was a good experience overall. If you told me I was going to be watching a 1920 Babe Ruth movie with very little baseball, and that the experience would be more positive than negative, I never would have believed you.

A final point, the writing is not unique and comes across as mostly uninspiring, except in the title cards. These texts were powerfully funny through the use of colloquialisms, slang, misspelling, and stereotypes. I’ll close my article with some of my favorite examples:

‘That pink-letter feller thought he wuz th’ whole red alphabet.’

‘Th’ barber and his wife might have been happy if they both hadn’t spoke the same language.’

‘Love makes you go through fire an’ water. Marriage throws th’ water on th’ fire–‘

‘Th’ gal got remorseful. Changed her mind like a woman an’ stuck to it like a man.’

And my favorite… ‘Pigtail told Babe, an’ Babe madder’n a porker-pine with ingrown quills.’



The bonus, as you might have guessed, is for the deliriously fun title cards. Best silent film title cards I’ve seen yet.




~ by johnlink00 on October 16, 2012.

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