THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG
Review by Michael Jacobson
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2001
original “Hammerin’ Hank” was not Aaron, but Greenberg, the man who in the
late 1930s broke professional baseball’s faith barrier by becoming its first
Jewish star. He was loved by his
community, hated by many others. He
wasn’t active in his faith, but he observed its traditions as an example to
Jews across the country. He built
his career with hard work and dedication over natural talent, and left a Hall of
Fame legacy that still stirs imaginations to this day.
Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is a modest but inspiring documentary film by Aviva
Kempner, who set out to explore A) what it was like to be a renowned Jew against
a backdrop of severe anti-Semitism, and B) what he accomplished on and off the
field with his courage and heroics.
at age 23, led the Detroit Tigers to the World Series against the famed St.
Louis “Gashouse Gang”. They
didn’t win, but their year established the Tigers as a serious threat to the
dominant Yankee dynasty of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as making Greenberg
a household name.
work ethic was the stuff of legends, as associates recall with fondness how he
would take batting practice until his hands were blistered, or how he would
stand in front of a mirror for hours at a time trying to perfect every little
nuance of his swing. It was said he
wasn’t a man of grace; at six-foot-four, he was a large, physical presence,
and neither the fastest runner nor the best fielder. When he swung and missed, his body would spin like a top.
When he connected, it took a long, long time for the ball to come back
his storybook career on the field was often met with hatred and bigotry off of
it. Racial slurs from fans and
opposing players became a part of his life.
One player even recalls a leadoff hitter being instructed to slide back
into first base as hard as he could just to injure Greenberg! But perhaps no year summed up the odds against him than the
year he made the first serious attempt to break the Babe’s 60 home run season
record. With 58 blasts under his
belt and three games to go, no pitcher gave him anything to hit for the
remainder of the year.
would prove his character, however, when he dropped out of baseball and
volunteered for the Army in time for America’s entry into World War II.
He had often said he felt every home run he had hit was a home run
against Hitler, but now, he was going to fight the Nazis for real.
This documentary, told via plenty of vintage footage, modern interviews with friends, fans, teammates and sports writers, is a balanced and serviceable biography, taking both the highlights and lowlights of Greenberg’s career and life with equal stride. To focus more on one would be to diminish the other…Kempner handles her material faithfully and judiciously, yet with a fan’s appreciation.
Greenberg was a hero to many, and his accomplishments helped those in the Jewish
communities to walk a little taller and feel a little prouder.
Few sports stars, despite their talents and numbers, can lay claim to
its mix of old and new footage, plus the fact that the overall picture seems
modestly budgeted, the look of the film on DVD is serviceable, but not much
more. The film stocks used don’t
present the brightest colors or the most detail; contrast is created with a
slight amount of grain from time to time. It’s
very watchable, to be sure, but won’t be considered reference quality by any.
stereo mix is likewise very suitable if unspectacular.
There’s not a lot of dynamic range here or real use of front-stage
panning effects, but neither are particularly missed.
Some open mike noise is occasionally audible during some of the modern
interview segments, but nothing distracting.
disc boasts some nice extras, including an informative commentary track from
Aviva Kempner, who talks about Greenberg, the interviews, and the making of the
film with warmth and fondness. The
disc also includes additional interviews not included within the body of the
documentary, a printed bio on Greenberg, plus his career stats (year by year and
totals), along with director’s notes and an original trailer.