The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I've made no bones about it that I like westerns, war movies and heist flicks. So brace yourself because here comes a rare review.....a MUSICAL! I know. I'm stunned, shocked and surprised too. If you're going to do a musical though, you might as well do it right. So yes, I watched a musical, but it was a baseball musical at least, 1949's 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): ***/****

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