Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
It's the start of the 1908 baseball season and the Sarasota Wolves
(you remember them, right?) are the defending world champs...with a
problem. The team's star double play combination, second baseman Dennis
Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and shortstop Eddie O'Brien (Gene Kelly),
are late to report as they close out their offseason vaudeville show (Yes, you
read that right). They manage to report on time only to hear some bad
news. The club's been purchased and supposedly by a new owner who will
try to run the team their way, butting in as unnecessarily needed. Not
so fast, Dennis and Eddie, the new owner isn't a 'he' but a 'she,' the
beautiful, K.C. Higgins (Esther Williams). Let the musical antics ensue.
Maybe because I don't typically seek out musicals, their inherent
goofiness never ceases to amaze me. A 1910s vaudeville act that doubles
as the second baseman and shortstop for a championship-winning baseball
team? Sure, why not? Now that mild curiosity and confusion aside,
there's a stupid, lovable charm to stories like this. They exist in a
world where nothing bad ever truly happens. It is goofy and innocent and
naive and that makes it all charming. Go figure. I liked a musical. The turn of the century setting doesn't hurt either, adding that old-time baseball quality with bad suits and funny looking baseball jerseys. I
stand by my statement though....a baseball musical.
Now I'll probably have to turn my man card in, but the songs and dance
numbers were pretty cool here. For one -- and this is going to sound
dumb -- the songs and dance numbers have somewhat of a flow to them in
terms of being part of the story. Yes, characters burst into song,
background performers join in, spontaneously knowing the words and
choreographed dancing. Then, the song ends and everyone goes back to
normal life. Director Busby Berkeley's
name is synonymous with big extravagant musicals with
ultra-choreographed dance numbers, and he succeeds on a smaller scale
here. The songs are catchy -- especially O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg --
and they only slightly seem out of place.
The biggest reason I went along with the story and watching the movie was
Sinatra and Kelly, two great entertainers who don't disappoint playing
off each other. As superstar baseball players, they're less than
believable (not surprising) but in terms of chemistry they're great
together. Sinatra gets to play the love-struck, bad luck in love Dennis
who falls hard for the tom-boyish but gorgeous KC while Kelly plays more
of the straight man, the suave and smooth ladies man. Whether they're
playing off each other comedically or through their song and dance
numbers, it's a perfect match. Kelly especially gets a chance to shine
and showcase his ability with several extended dance sequences. Also
look for Jules Munshin as Nat Goldberg, the Wolves' first baseman and final piece of the team's double-play trio.
Queen of the MGM musical, Williams more than holds her own with her
male co-stars, and ends up being the smartest and most clever of the
three. Her on-set experience was apparently less than pleasant --
all-around nice guy Kelly berating her -- but it doesn't show in her
part. She has a great chemistry especially with Sinatra. Betty Garrett has a fun part as Shirley, a lovestruck fan who falls for Sinatra's Dennis and won't be easily slowed down. Richard Lane and Tom Dugan
are great in supporting parts as Gilhuly and Slappy, the Wolves'
no-nonsense manager and his bench coach. Entertaining, charming and
without a mean bone in its body, just a good example of a fun story and a
time long since gone in Hollywood history.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game <---TCM trailer/clips (1949): ***/****