Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Heading Home (1920): Babe Ruth and Normalcy

“He made a Nation of Leagues forget the League of Nations.” So opens the 1920 silent movie, Headin’ Home staring Babe Ruth. As a lover of baseball, silent movies, the early twentieth century, and the Yankees, I was naturally drawn to this movie when I saw it scheduled on TCM. The plot is fairly hokey and has no correlation to the real Babe’s life. The fictional Babe was the most modest lad who grew up in a wholesome small town, protected little girls and their dogs, lived with mom, and didn’t drink, or chase women. He struts around town whittling a baseball bat from a log (no, I am not making that up) with a baseball mitt permanently affixed to the belt loop on his trousers. So addicted to baseball, he comically delivers a chunk of ice, a fraction of its original size because he kept stopping at the sandlots along the way to join games. This varied, of course, with the rough and tumble, trouble filled, urban youth of the real Babe who was a well known womanizer and boozing playboy. Far from modest, Ruth most flamboyantly exemplified the lifestyle of conspicuous consumption identified with the “Roaring Twenties.” Moreover, Headin’ Home depicts the Sultan of Swat who was then just changing the entire course of baseball culture and history by glamorizing the home run. In one critical scene, Babe breaks a 14-14 tie by hitting a towering homerun that crashes through a church window five blocks from the sandlot. The real Babe did not make the major leagues on the strength of his hitting. He came up as a pitcher, and was probably the best southpaw of the late teens. Another one of Ruth’s impressive credentials.

The movie is full of corny sayings like, “he was one goat that never let out a bleat” and contained a few political references, such as when Babe used his own “14 points” to end a marital spat between a couple. Nonetheless, I can see this movie as not only an attempt to cash in on Ruth’s suddenly skyrocketing celebrity, but also as a cinematic call for a return to the small town, traditional values Warren G. Harding dubbed “Normalcy.”

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