Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)

Toronto Film Society presented Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) on Sunday, April 12, 1987 in a double bill with Carmen Jones as part of the Season 39 Sunday Afternoon Film Buffs Series “A”, Programme 10.

Production Company: Arthur Freed for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Directed by: Busby Berkeley.  Screenplay: Harry Tugend and George Wells, from a story by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.  Songs by: Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Roger Edens (except the title song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzen).  Editor: Blanche Sewell.  Camera: George Folsey.  Musical Direction: Adolph Deutsch.

Cast:  Frank Sinatra (Dennis Ryan), Esther Williams (K.C. Higgins), Gene Kelly (Eddie O’Brien), Betty Garrett (Shirley Delwyn), Edward Arnold (Joe Lorgan), Jules Munshin (Nat Goldberg), Richard Lane (Michael Gilhuly, manager), Tom Dugan (Slappy Burke, coach).

(If you think that the presence of this film within a week of the opening of the 1987 baseball season is a mere coincidence, well..think whatever you like!)

Excerpts from Bosley Crowther’s review in the New York Times (March 10, 1949) should tell us all we need to know for the proper appreciation and enjoyment of this film:

The time-honored axiom of showmen that the ladies don’t go for baseball films and that movies about ballplayers have two strikes against them at the start has been easily circumvented by Metro in whipping up its Technicolored Take Me Out to the Ball Game…  The studio has simply made this picture a rowdy-dow musical show featuring Gene Kelly and rank Sinatra–who, incidentally, play a little ball.  And “incidentally” is the right word, for the brand of swat played in this film is strictly and clearly inferior to the dancing and singing done in it.  In fact, the exhibits of baseball put on by the Wolves, a fictitious team of horse-car vintage, and fulsomely fanciful..  The only hits in this Ball Game are those which are danced and sung…

In short, the baseball in this musical is not to be taken any more seriously than the plot.  (As the Variety critic pointed out: “..There is no pretense that Ball Game is anything more than a romp for Kelly’s virtuosity”.)  Crowther’s review concludes:

For all its high spots, however, the show lacks consistent style and pace, and the stars are forced to clown and grimace much more than becomes their speed.  Actually, the plotted humor is conspicuously bush-league stuff.  Don’t be surprised if you see people getting up for a seventh-inning stretch.

But who cares, when the film gives us one more chance to watch Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in their youthful prime.  The off-screen Sinatra may be as nasty as they all say, but his on-screen personality remains his lasting gift to the world.

Notes by Fraser Macdonald

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