You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play catch. “Keep your eye on the ball”, Bill tells Scotty, and he does – resulting in a shiner!

The kids on the block take an immediate dislike to goofus Smalls (“The kid’s an L-7… a weenie!”). Why, he doesn’t even know who The Great Bambino was!! Benny, the best ballplayer in the neighborhood, feels sorry for Smalls and takes him under his wing. They all warn him of The Legend of The Beast, a ferocious Great Mastiff junkyard dog who resides on the other side of the sandlot’s fence and eats any baseballs that come his way… and kids, too! One fine day, Benny literally “tears the cover off the ball”, so Smalls runs home to fetch a replacement – an autographed Babe Ruth ball from Bill’s trophy room! Needless to say, Smalls’ first home run winds up in The Beast’s possession, and a mad scramble is on to retrieve it before Bill comes home…

THE SANDLOT is an exercise in nostalgia, all about friendship and childhood dreams, and also happens to be uproariously funny! There’s so much to love about this film, and I especially love the scene at the community pool when ‘Squints’ has his big moment in the sun with neighborhood hottie Wendy Peffercorn, played by Marley Shelton, later of PLEASANTVILLE, SIN CITY, GRINDHOUSE (the Robert Rodriguez half PLANET TERROR) and GRAND THEFT PARSONS. Then there’s the kids learning a valuable lesson: carnival rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and chewing tobacco don’t mix! The boys trading insults with a rival, well-heeled team about eating toejam and bobbing for apples in toilets ends with ‘Ham’ hurling the biggest insult of all: “You play like a girl!!” (Gasp!!!).

There’s a neat cameo at the end by James Earl Jones (who knew a thing or two about baseball flicks!) as junkyard owner Mr. Mertle, and like it’s spiritual predecessor AMERICAN GRAFFITI , the soundtrack’s loaded with classic rock tunes of the era by Booker T & The MG’s (“Green Onions”), Hank Ballard & The Midnighters (“Finger Poppin’ Time”), The Champs (“Tequila”), The Drifters (“There Goes My Baby”, “This Magic Moment”), The Surfaris (“Wipeout”) , and The Tokens (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”). THE SANDLOT is a true summertime classic, one I could watch over and over again… in fact, I think I’ll go watch it now! As for the rest of you, since I’m still reelin’ and rockin’ from the John Fogerty concert I attended a few days ago, I’ll leave you with John’s classic ode to baseball from 1985, “Centerfield”:

  “Let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” – Ham Porter

The Great American Pastime: IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (20th Century-Fox 1942)

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived! It’s a tradition as American as Apple Pie, and so is IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, a baseball movie about a lousy team in Brooklyn whose new manager takes them to the top of the heap. The team’s not explicitly called the Dodgers and the manager’s not named Leo Durocher, but their improbable 1941 pennant winning season is exactly what inspired this charmingly nostalgic little movie.

When Brooklyn’s manager quits the team, dowager team owner Mrs. McAvoy seeks out ex-player Frank Maguire, who seven years earlier was run out of town when an unfortunate error cost the team the pennant. She finds him running a club out in the sticks, and convinces him to come back to the Big Leagues. He does, bringing along his faithful bat boy/sidekick ‘Squint’, and just before the season’s about to begin, Mrs. McAvoy abruptly dies. Her family members, led by majority owning niece Kathryn Baker, know absolutely nothing about baseball and want to sell, but Frank woos and wins Kathryn over.

Ownership spends big money to bring in new players, and the Brooklyn nine go on an incredible hot streak. But when Frank stands Kathryn up on a date to accept a speaking engagement, their romance hits a bump. Further turmoil is caused when Frank starts his rookie phenom pitcher in a crucial game, and the rook gets shellacked. Poison pen sports columnist Danny Mitchell, who led the charge to run Frank out of town all those years ago, dips his venomous pen in ink once again, and things fall apart, with the players petitioning to have Frank removed. Will Frank and Kathryn get back together? Will Brooklyn rally and win the pennant? Will there be a happy ending? (I know, silly questions, right?!)

The criminally underrated Lloyd Nolan is convincing as baseball lifer Frank Maguire, and gives a passionate performance. Carole Landis also shines as socialite Kathryn, and the two have good screen chemistry. They made one other film together, the WWII drama MANILA CALLING, and it’s a shame they didn’t make more. Sara Allgood’s role of feisty Mrs. McAvoy is brief but memorable, Robert Armstrong plays the hissable columnist, William Frawley the sarcastic Brooklyn GM, Scotty Beckett the irrepressible ‘Squint’, Jane Darwell is Nolan’s Irish mum, and there’s more Familiar Faces than you can wave a bat at: James Burke, Gino Corrado, Mary Gordon, Matt McHugh, Jed Prouty, and many, many more.

Dodgers vs Reds at Ebbets Field: Umpire George Magerkurth takes a pummeling from overwrought Brooklyn Dodgers fan Frank Germano who objected to some of his calls. (Photo by Hank Olen/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)My favorite scene is based on a true-life incident that occurred during the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1940 season, as Nolan goes out to argue with the umpire over a bad call, and a fan runs out of the stands, slugging the ump and causing a riot! Actual footage of the incident is spliced into the scene, and a courtroom coda features Nolan giving an impassioned, patriotic plea on the fan’s behalf (gotta get that WWII angle in the film somehow!). Director Ray McCarey handles the material well; like his more successful, Oscar-winning older brother Leo McCarey, Ray got his start at the Hal Roach fun factory, directing Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy shorts. He guided The Three Stooges in two of their best at Columbia, the Oscar-nominated MEN IN BLACK and the football spoof THREE LITTLE PIGSKINS (featuring a young Lucille Ball), and though his feature film career consists mainly of little ‘B’ films like IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, his body of work deserves to be rediscovered.

So grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks, the frosty beverage of your choice, and get ready, because baseball season has begun at last! Let’s root, root, root for the home team, and you know what’s coming next, right?…


LET’S GO, RED SOX!!

 

 

 

Spring Fever: Joe E. Brown in ELMER THE GREAT (Warner Brothers 1933)

It may be cold and snowy here in New England, but down in sunny Florida, Spring Training has already begun – which means baseball season is on it’s way! The Red Sox are looking good, although they got pounded by the Orioles in the game I watched this afternoon (I’m writing this on a Saturday), but just hearing the crack of the bats has whetted my appetite for the return of America’s National Pastime. So while we wait for Opening Day to arrive, let’s take a look at the 1933 baseball comedy ELMER THE GREAT.

Comedian Joe E. Brown plays yet another amiable country bumpkin, this time Elmer Kane of small town Gentryville, Indiana. Elmer’s  laid back to the point of inertia, except when he’s eating… or on a baseball field! He’s better than Babe Ruth and he knows it, and so do the Chicago Cubs, who’ve bought his contract from minor league Terre Haute and want him to be their starting second baseman. But Elmer won’t leave his hick town, because he’s got a crush on his boss, pretty general store owner Nellie Poole. When Nellie finds out she’s holding him back, she reluctantly rejects him so he’ll sign the contract and be a success. Disheartened Elmer does, and he’s off to The Windy City.

At training camp, Elmer the big-headed rube gets constantly ribbed by his teammates, but wows ’em at the plate with his hitting power. The season begins, and the Cubs go on a tear, with amazing Elmer belting “67 Home Runs”! Nellie, whose letters have been withheld by team management so Elmer won’t return to Gentryville, flies to Chicago for a visit, and catches Elmer kissing a big city gal! The misunderstanding makes Elmer miserable, so his teammate High-Hips tries to cheer him up by taking the hayseed to a swanky speakeasy/gambling joint. Elmer, thinking they’re playing for “funsies”, racks up a huge gambling debt, and the gangsters that run the joint tell him they’ll rip up the tab if he’ll do them a favor – throw the upcoming World Series against the hated New York Yankees!!

Costars Frank McHugh and Patricia Ellis

Brown’s early 30’s sports comedies are always entertaining, and ELMER THE GREAT is among his best. The screenplay by Tom Geraghty, based on a play by Ring Lardner and George M. Cohan, allows the comic to show off his knack for getting laughs both physically and verbally. He also gets to use that “Big Mouth” of his to good advantage early in the film. Brown’s ably supported by charmingly cute Patricia Ellis as Nellie, Frank McHugh as High-Hips, Sterling Holloway as his kid brother, and Familiar Faces like Berton Churchill, Claire Dodd , Douglas Dumbrille , Emma Dunn, Preston Foster, Russell Hopton, J. Carrol Naish , and Jessie Ralph. And believe it or not, that’s Lucille Ball’s TV nemesis Gale Gordon as the (very) young radio play-by-play announcer!


ELMER THE GREAT was the fourth and final collaboration between Brown and director Mervyn LeRoy , who also guided him in TOP SPEED, LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD and BROADMINDED. It’s a funny little baseball comedy, and best of all (*SPOILER ALERT*), Elmer helps his team rally to BEAT THE YANKEES! Now that’s what a die-hard Red Sox fan like me calls a happy ending!

Base-Brawl: William Bendix in KILL THE UMPIRE (Columbia 1950)

Ahh, spring is in the air, that magical time of year, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of… baseball!! That’s right, Dear Readers, Opening Day is upon us once again, and what better way to celebrate the return of America’s National Pastime than taking a look back at KILL THE UMPIRE, a 1950 comedy conceived in the warped mind of former animator Frank Tashlin and directed by ex-Warners vet Lloyd Bacon.

Big lug William Bendix stars as Bill Johnson, an ex-major leaguer whose passion for the game keeps him from holding a regular job because he keeps playing hooky to go to the ballpark. Bill hates only one thing more than missing a game – umpires! But when his exasperated wife threatens to leave him, his ex-ump father-in-law suggests he go to umpire school to save his marriage. Bill balks at first, but then reluctantly agrees, not wishing to lose his spouse. He does everything in his power to get ejected out of the school, including donning a pair of thick “Coke-bottle’ glasses, but eventually comes around. Bill and his roomie Roscoe are sent to the Texas League, where he finds Texans hate umpires even more than he does, at one point getting knocked out by a tossed cowboy boot! Some gamblers attempt to bribe Bill, but he causes them to lose by having their team forfeit, causing a Texas-sized riot at the old ball game! Fans want Bill’s head on a platter, and it all culminates in a wild chase with Bendix in drag, pursued by an angry mob and angrier gamblers. But as you probably can guess by now, all’s well that ends well.

Tashlin’s loony screenplay features many of his trademark cartoony sight gags, like Bendix wearing an over-inflated chest protector, then getting his spikes stuck in a wooden floor, with hilarious results. The chase is a riot too, with our hero being dragged water-skiing style on a piece of fence behind an ambulance. Tashlin strikes the right balance of situation comedy and slapstick hijinks, aided by Bacon’s deft direction. Bacon was adept at any type movie, but got his start with Chaplin and Mack Sennett; his comedy bona fides include GOLD DUST GERTIE, THE IRISH IN US , A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER, and MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND.

“This ballpark has sho’ gone crazy!”

William Bendix plays it broad as baseball nut Bill. He was no stranger to baseball pictures, having starred two years earlier in THE BABE RUTH STORY. No stranger to comedy, either: Bendix starred in radio’s THE LIFE OF RILEY sitcom, later bringing it to television (in fact, his RILEY TV costar Tom D’Andrea plays roommate Roscoe). It’s nice to see Una Merkel get a substantial part here as Bendix’s beleaguered wife. Ray Collins , of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and TV’s PERRY MASON, plays father-in-law Jonah. Three Stooges fans will get a kick out of seeing many Columbia Short Subject Players in small roles: Murray Alper, Stanley Blystone, Vernon Dent, Dudley Dickerson (“This house has sho’ gone crazy!”), Emil Sitka, Dick Wessel, and Jean Willes appear, and the familiar strains of “Three Blind Mice” play over the opening credits! You’ll also find Familiar Faces like William Frawley , Billy Gray, Frank Hagney, Alan Hale Jr. , and others in the mix.

Some may find KILL THE UMPIRE a bit dated, but it’s still got plenty of laughs in it to make it worth your time. And it’s available on YouTube for your convenience! Makes a good pre-game warm-up…. now let’s Play Ball!

Oh, and one other thing…. Let’s Go Red Sox!!

Screwball Comedian: Joe E. Brown in ALIBI IKE (Warner Brothers 1935)

We’re about a quarter of the way through the baseball season, so let’s take a trip to the ballpark with Joe E. Brown in ALIBI IKE, a 1935 comedy based on a story by Ring Lardner, one of the best baseball writers of the early 20th Century. Brown, known for his wide mouth and comical yell, is an admittedly acquired taste; his “gosh, golly” country bumpkin persona is not exactly what modern audiences go for these days.  But back in the 30’s he was one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, specializing in sports themed comedies  revolving around wrestling (SIT TIGHT), track and field (LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD), swimming (YOU SAID A MOUTHFUL), polo (POLO JOE), football ($1,000 A TOUCHDOWN), and racing (boats in TOP SPEED, airplanes in GOING WILD, bicycles in SIX DAY BIKE RACE).

ALIBI IKE is the final chapter in Brown’s “baseball trilogy”. The first, 1932’s FIREMAN, SAVE MY CHILD, found him as a player for the St. Louis Cardinals who doubles as a fireman and part-time inventor. 1933’s ELMER THE GREAT has Brown as an egotistical rookie for the Chicago Cubs. In ALIBI IKE, he’s back in a Cubs uniform as Frank X. Farrell, a hick-from-the-sticks with an unorthodox pitching style and a blazing fastball. His teammates nickname him “Alibi Ike” for his proclivity to come up with an outrageous excuse for everything, but his raw talent sets the league abuzz, raising the hopes of the Cubs long-suffering manager Cap (played by Fred Mertz himself, cranky William Frawley).

The rube’s never been interested in women until he meets Cap’s sister-in-law Dolly, who thinks he’s “cute”. This was movie audiences first glimpse at a 19-year-old actress who definitely had a future before her… Olivia de Havilland ! Olivia had already filmed A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM (also featuring Brown) and THE IRISH IN US, but ALIBI IKE was released first. She’s pretty darn “cute” herself as Dolly, and has great chemistry with Brown. Later that year, Olivia would costar with Errol Flynn in CAPTAIN BLOOD , becoming half of one of the screen’s most romantic couples.

Ike is paid a visit by the president of “The Young Men’s High Ideals Club”, which he soon finds out is a front for a gambling ring that threatens him to throw some games or else! When Dolly breaks up with him over a misunderstanding, the lovestruck hurler loses his first game. Through circumstances, Cap and the team’s president think he’s in with the gamblers, and on the night of the big pennant deciding game against the Giants, Ike is kidnapped! Of course, you just know he’ll escape and wind up winning both the game and the girl, right?

The only quibble I have with ALIBI IKE is the big night game is played on the Cubs’ home field, which as all us baseball fans know didn’t get lights for night games until 1988! Otherwise, this is one of the all-time great baseball comedies, with actors that actually look like ball players for a change. The cast includes Familiar Faces Ruth Donnelly (as Frawley’s wife), Roscoe Karns, Jack Norton  (sober for a change, as a reporter!), Frank Coghlin Jr (Billy Batson in the serial CAPTAIN MARVEL), and Fred “Snowflake” Toones. Hard-core baseball enthusiasts may recognize former old-time players Gump Cantrell, Cedric Durst, Mike Gazella, Don Hurst, and Bob Meusel, as well as Jim Thorpe, whose life story was made into a 1951 biofilm starring Burt Lancaster.

William Wister Haines adapted his screenplay from Lardner’s story, giving Brown plenty of comic opportunities, and director Ray Enright ( PLAY-GIRL , ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES, GUNG HO!) keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. ALIBI IKE is a wonderful place to start if you’re not familiar with Brown’s work, classic movie lovers will want to catch it for Olivia’s screen debut, and baseball fans for the sheer joy of it. Honestly, I think even non-baseball fans will get a kick out of ALIBI IKE. Now let’s play ball!

 

Pop Up Fly: SQUEEZE PLAY (Troma 1979)

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Welcome to the wacky, wonderful world of 70’s sexploitation comedies. Today we’ll be dealing with two Great American Obsessions: boobs and baseball! (Actually, it’s softball here, but why quibble).  SQUEEZE PLAY is brought to you by Lloyd Kaufman and his team at Troma Entertainment, the folks responsible for such cinematic gems as THE TOXIC AVENGER and CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH. Let’s slide right into the plot of the movie, shall we?

SQUEEZE PLAY is your basic Battle of the Sexes romp. The Beavers are the champs of the Mattress Workers Softball League, and the guys on the team have been ignoring their women folk for softball. This is causing much friction between them (and not the pleasant kind!), especially our two leads, team captain Wes and his fiancée Samantha. Things change when Mary Lou, a pretty heiress on the run, comes to town and demonstrates a killer arm (seems she’s a softball veteran). The gals decide to form their own team, called The Beaverettes, and challenge the guys to a game, which concludes the film.

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Who wins? Does it matter? SQUEEZE PLAY’s thin plot is just an excuse to highlight a truckload of sexual innuendoes, double entendres, gross-out comedy bits, and naked boobs! There’s a subplot involving a Private Detective named Koch searching for Mary Lou, but again it’s an excuse to work in some banter about “Koch” and “Private Dick”.  The film gives a nod to Women’s Lib by having the Beaverettes wear “Support the ERA” on their jerseys, otherwise it’s completely politically incorrect. It’s just a fun, frisky movie from a bygone era (remember “Wet T-Shirt Nights” anyone?), and ultimately harmless.

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Director Samuel Weil is really Lloyd Kaufman, the mad genius behind Troma. Filmed on a budget of $150,000, it was independently released before being picked up by 20th Century-Fox. The film did well on the circuit, and gained more exposure in the early 80’s when it was endlessly run on Showtime (where I first saw it). Among the many films Troma have independently distributed are BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, and DEF BY TEMPTATION. Kaufman and his Troma Entertainment are still around, mainly through their On Demand service, keeping the true indie film spirit alive.

The cast is mostly unknown, though there’s a few Familiar Faces dotting the landscape. Jennifer Hetrick (Samantha) is known to fans of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE as the adventuress Vash. Al Corley (Buddy) was the original Steven Carrington on the primetime soap DYNASTY. Michael Moran (Bozo) had small roles in SCARFACE, 9 1/2 WEEKS, and GHOSTBUSTERS II. Irwin Keyes (the bar bouncer) was a character actor of note, featured in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, and OBLIVION. Mike Starr (the bar owner) is another actor you may recall from GOODFELLAS, DUMB AND DUMBER, and ED WOOD. Brenda Kaplan (Brenda) later changed her name to Brenda K. Starr and had a hit record with 1987’s “I Still Believe”, later covered by Mariah Carey. Starr is still active in the Latino/dance music scene.

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So, is SQUEEZE PLAY worth your time? Well, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it. It’s raunchy and goofy, but mild compared to others of its era. Troma aficionados will want to see it for an early look at Lloyd Kaufman’s work, and 70’s grindhouse fans will get a kick out of it. It’s the kind of film they just don’t make anymore. I’m not going to judge whether that’s good or bad. Personally, I liked it, and if you’re in the right mood, you probably will, too. Just don’t expect FIELD OF DREAMS or THE NATURAL.

 

Wild Pitch: THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS (20th Century-Fox 1952)

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Jerome Herman “Dizzy” Dean, ace pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals’ famed “Gashouse Gang” in the 1930’s, gets the Hollywood biopic treatment in this pleasant little film. The malaprop prone Dizzy was one of the game’s greats before an unfortunate injury, leading to him becoming a well-loved broadcaster. The film sticks fairly close to the facts, as Dean was a colorful enough character to need little embellishment.

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THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS follows Dean’s career as he’s discovered pitching in his Arkansas hometown, through the minors, and finally to big league success with the Cardinals. Along the way he woos and wins the love of his life, Patricia. Soon his brother Paul joins the team, and the pair become as well-known for their off-field antics as for their pitching prowess.

The movie takes a turn when Dizzy is injured during an All Star Game and tries to come back too soon. His arm is ruined, but Dizzy can’t accept the fact his baseball career is over. He begins to gamble and drink heavily, and Pat leaves him, telling him he needs to grow up. A friend offers him a job as a radio broadcaster, and Dizzy becomes an overnight sensation. The local PTA group disapproves of the effect his mangled English is having on children, and seeks to have him banned. But overwhelming fan support gets them to relent, and Dizzy, back with Pat, goes on to a long and prosperous new career.

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Dan Dailey is “pitch” perfect as Dizzy Dean. He looks like a ballplayer, and his dancer’s background enables him to gracefully convey a pitcher’s moves. Dailey’s quite charming as the loveable country bumpkin turned Major League star. Equally charming is Joanne Dru as wife Pat. More well-known for her work in Westerns (RED RIVER, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), Dru shines as Dizzy’s patient, loving wife. A VERY young Richard Crenna takes the part of Paul “Daffy” Dean, a far cry from Col. Troutman in the RAMBO series. Familiar Faces you’ll encounter are James Brown (not the singer, the actor who starred on TV’s THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN), Jack Rice, John Doucette, Phillip Van Zandt, and Johnny Duncan, the Boy Wonder of the 1949 serial BATMAN & ROBIN. Old timers (like me) will recognize Chet Huntley, newscaster of NBC’s HUNTLEY/BRINKLEY REPORT, as Dizzy’s radio broadcasting partner.

Behind the scenes, Harmon Jones provides able direction, balancing the baseball action with the melodramatics. Jones was a workhorse in the 20th Century Fox editing department, on films like 13 RUE MADELEINE, ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, YELLOW SKY, and SITTING PRETTY.  Jones’ career as director was undistinguished, consisting mostly of second feature programmers. He was more successful in television, where his resume includes numerous episodes of RAWHIDE, PERRY MASON, TARZAN, and DEATH VALLEY DAYS. The screenplay for THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS was written by the same man who wrote 1942’s THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, the Lou Gehrig story. That man was Herman J. Mankiewicz, Oscar winner for CITIZEN KANE, and classics like DINNER AT EIGHT, SAN FRANCISCO, and THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE. Brother of Joseph L. Mankiewicz and grandfather of TCM host Ben, Herman also produced many of the early Marx Brothers movies at Paramount.

The Real Dizzy Dean
                                                                               The Real Dizzy Dean

Sentimental and schmaltzy, but not in a bad way, THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS will leave you smiling. It’s a good little film that gives the viewer a realistic look at the old ball game. While not in the classic category, baseball fans will enjoy it. Even if you’re not a baseball buff, it’s worth your time. And if you are a baseball buff, here’s some of Dizzy Dean’s accomplishments:

DIZZY DEAN CAREER STATS

150-83 win-loss record

3.02 ERA

154 complete games

1,163 K’s

4 time All Star

30 game winner in 1934

2 time 20 game winner

Struck out 17 Cubs in a game, a record broken by Bob Feller in 1938 (18), then shattered by Roger Clemens twice with the Boston Red Sox (20, in 1986, 1996)

National League MVP

Hall of Famer

 

Batter Up!: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (MGM 1949)

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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?

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: General view as the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals stand on the field for the National Anthem before the game at Fenway Park on April 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 13: General view as the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals stand on the field for the National Anthem before the game at Fenway Park on April 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Baseball fans rejoice! Opening Day is on it’s way (GO RED SOX!), and this week Cracked Rear Viewer will celebrating the return of America’s Pastime! Play Ball!

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949)

THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS (1952)

SQUEEZE PLAY (1979)