The National Pastime is just a frame for TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to hang its picture in. That’s okay though, because producer Arthur Freed and the MGM Musical Dream Factory put together a rollicking, colorful romp with turn of the (20th) century baseball as an excuse to let Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra , Esther Williams, Betty Garrett, and company razzle-dazzle us with plenty of songs, dancing, romancing, and comedy.
There’s not much of a plot in this outing. The World Champion Wolves are at spring training, awaiting the arrival of star diamond duo Eddie O’Brien and Denny Ryan, who’re off on a vaudeville tour. Eddie (Kelly) is a skirt chaser with Broadway dreams, while Denny’s (Sinatra) a shy, geeky guy who lives and breathes baseball. They get to camp just in time to hear the Wolves’ owner has died and left the club to his only relative, K.C. Higgins (Williams), who happens to be (gasp!) a girl! Eddie makes a poor first impression on K.C., so you just know they’ll end up together. Denny’s being chased by fan Shirley Delwyn (Garrett), who’s involved with a crooked gambler (Edward Arnold). Romantic complications and skullduggery ensue, but everything works out in the end, with Kelly, Sinatra, Williams, and Garrett breaking the Fourth Wall to reprise the rousing tune “Strictly USA”.
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen wrote the story for the film as a bullpen session for their later collaborations (ON THE TOWN, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN). Freed wasn’t ready to let the duo bat as directors, so he hired pinch hitter Busby Berkeley, the crafty veteran responsible for early hits like 42ND STREET, DAMES, and the GOLDDIGGERS series. This was Berkeley’s last credited film as director, though he did choreograph a handful of others in the 50’s. Kelly and Donen did handle the dance numbers here though, showcasing Kelly’s physical style. I especially enjoyed his exuberant tap number celebrating his Irish heritage on “The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore”:
There are nine musical numbers in all, including the rip-roaring “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg”, featuring third banana Jules Munshin, who costarred with Kelly and Sinatra in ON THE TOWN, along with Garrett. Esther Williams even gets some brief pool time, swimming along while singing the title tune. Besides those I’ve already mentioned, Richard Lane and Tom Dugan lend able support as the team manager and his coach. Familiar Face spotters will note Murray Alper, Douglas Fowley , Henry Kulky, Gordon Jones, and Sally Forrest . And yes, that’s Danny Kaye in a cameo as a train passenger sitting behind Kelly and Sinatra.
If you like classic musicals and baseball (and I do), then TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME is a solid, bases-clearing triple. Filled with toe tapping songs and silly slapstick bits (thanks to uncredited gagman Buster Keaton), it’s as American as apple pie and “Strictly USA”. And who can argue with that?