Angels in the Outfield. Oh, by the way, I still love that movie. It took years for me to discover that the 1994 Disney movie is actually a remake. Who knew? Here's the original, 1951's Angels in the Outfield.
It's midseason, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and foul-mouthed manager Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas) is slowly losing his mind. Fans are turning on him, his players hate him and his "managerial tactics," and the press corps is ready to lynch him. One day, a home and garden-esque reporter, Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh) writes a scathing column of his antics, finally pushing Guffy to the brink. Following one game, Guffy hears an angel address him, telling him to clean up his act and stop berating his team, fans and umpires alike. As long as he does that, angels will help out his team. Guffy obviously thinks it's a big prank....until the hapless Pirates start winning a whole lot of games. Could something heavenly actually be helping the Pirates? The gruff manager keeps his secret just that, secret, until one day a little girl, Bridget (Donna Corcoran), comes out to a game and actually sees the angels on the field. Is Guffy's secret blown for good?
I love sports so I'll watch basically anything even remotely sports-related. But of all the sports, baseball will always be my favorite. The sport translates seamlessly to the big screen, and this entry from director Clarence Brown is an underrated one. So story and characters aside, I think any true baseball fan will get a kick out of this one. It was filmed on location at real-life stadiums, especially Forbes Field in Pittsburgh but also look for Old Comiskey Park in Chicago and a Wrigley Field lookalike in L.A. That throwback, nostalgic feel of a baseball era long since past is evident from the opening credits -- a sample of Take Me Out to the Ball Game -- and never really lets up. There's an appreciation for baseball here that any fan should get a kick out of.
If I didn't know any better, I would have said this was a flick directed by the master of the cornball sap, Frank Capra. I was wrong, but the tone isn't far removed from typical Capra sweetness. There's always that potential with a really happy, sweet story that it goes too far, but that's not the case here. That's the word that comes to mind though; sweet. It's a good story without a mean bone in its body. We never actually see the angels out on the field or in the dugout, only that Corcoran's Bridget sees them clearly on several occasions. Is it a surprise that Douglas' gruff Guffy becomes a sweet, lovable guy? Nah, not at all. At different points I found myself questioning the movie. If angels are helping the Pirates then does that mean they're rooting against other teams? I think it's a valid question, but quickly put it out of my mind. This isn't a film interested in that at all. It's a good, old-fashioned, entertaining story.
Without featuring much in the way of star power, 'Angels' benefits from a lesser known cast. Douglas is an underrated actor, hamming it up a bit here as Guffy but never pushing too far. Leigh is mostly around as a pretty face -- no disrespect intended -- as the non-sports reporter trying to figure sports out. I thought the best part was nine-year old Corcoran as Bridget, a young orphan who spots the angels and bonds quickly with Guffy and Jennifer over the course of the season. It sounds sappy (sorry, I'll stop using that), but I thought it was a cool touch that the angels only appear to a child (an innocent), and not too cynical adults. Also look for Keenan Wynn as the angry radio man with a hatred for Guffy, Spring Byington and Ellen Corby as the nuns at the orphanage, and Bruce Bennett as Saul, a veteran pitcher trying to make it through one last season. Bing Crosby, Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio and baseball great Ty Cobb also make some cool cameos as themselves.
There are things here that I could easily criticize if I was in a foul mood, but I'm not going to. Guffy talks to an angel (voiced by James Whitmore) out on a dark baseball field with the game already in the books. We hear about 'the Heavenly Choir,' the team of angels that are helping the Pirates with some "hunches" in-game. If this sounds like a cop-out, so be it. You can't overthink/overanalyze this movie. Just enjoy it. It's that perfect mix of sappy, cornball charm with some baseball and old-fashioned Americana in it. Appreciate it and sit back.
Angels in the Outfield (1951): *** 1/2 /****