It Happens Every Spring (1949)

Directed by Lloyd Bacon

It Happens Every Spring is the type of sentiment with which I can easily relate, as with every entrance of the spring season comes the hopes and dreams of a ball club and its fan base. For me it’s the Cincinnati Reds, and some years I catch the fever a little more than other (I may be an optimist, but when the team is bad, the team is bad). I also still play in a wood bat league which is competitive with mostly former high school players, but with some former college and minor leaguers. My weekday afternoons at work are spent with baseball in my headphones (when there are day games), so when professor Vernon Simpson reaches down to turn on his spring fever by switching the St. Louis game on in the middle of a lecture, I can relate.

Vernon, played by Ray Milland, is a somewhat eccentric young man, Chemistry professor, who is obsessed with the game of baseball. From October through March, Vernon is a brilliant mind, but from April through September, Vernon’s focus begins daydreaming baseball and his work suffers as a result. His new dame, because there’s always a dame, is Deborah Greenleaf (Jean Peters), the daughter of the college dean, who inquires about his daughter’s new beau. During a breakthrough in his experiment, Vernon’s life work is ruined by a baseball crashing through the window and wrecking his chemistry set, but the result is the discovery of an unknown substance that is wood repellant. This chance discovery sparks Vernon’s new career, as Major League pitcher King Kelly as he leads the St. Louis baseball team to the pennant.

There is, of course, the obvious twist somewhat later on in the film (to be vague enough to not completely spoil it), but the operative word being obvious. Much of this film plays out as juvenile and hokey, definitely hokey. The concept by itself, in the context of 1949, is cute enough, but Lloyd Bacon and screenwriter Valentine Davies do very little past the wood repellant idea to infuse anything of note into the film. From a current day perspective, it is difficult to take the film even at a comedic level. In an era of performance enhancers, controversy and tainted records, the notion of a substance gaining an edge for “King Kelly” feels lewd and wrong on multiple levels. For this reason, the premise proves to be a weakness to the film in 2015.

With the premise as a weakness, there isn’t much else to stand on. Paul Douglas attempts to save the film as the kooky sidekick catcher Monk, but ultimately It Happens Every Spring is built on too thin of a plot, with too little in the way of romance between Vernon and Deborah, too little conflict built between Vernon and Mr. Greenleaf, and not enough of the unexpected from the baseball storyline to merit recommendation. The performances don’t turn me off of the film, but the warm celebration of a cheater at the end of the film, and a concept reminiscent of Flubber all but stick a fork in this baseball film. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for this film’s style of “fun”.

** – Poor

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