Directed by Lloyd Bacon
After seeing It Happens Every Spring, it was of no surprise to see what Lloyd Bacon had in store for Kill the Umpire. The difference between the two, since I didn’t really find the former all that interesting or entertaining, is in the form of William Bendix, whose Bill Johnson is not only relatable, but funny and sincere too. Johnson, a former ball player, loves the game of baseball so much that he can’t keep a job, always slouching out to catch the game in the afternoons. He has gone through so many jobs as to put a tremendous amount of strain on his relationship with his family, most notably his wife. But when his father-in-law, a former umpire, suggests that Bill pursue his former profession as his own, Bill objects at first, being abhorrently against umpires. Begrudgingly, Bill agrees to go to umpire school, where he attempts to do his worst and flunk out. However, when leaving the school he sees a sandlot game as he waits for his train, which teaches him the function and importance of the profession.
I think knowing this film may be hokey going in was of great benefit, as I was able to take the really corny jokes in stride and manage to enjoy quite a few of them, thanks in large part to Bendix, as I mentioned above. His delivery is very childish, which becomes somewhat endearing given his obsession with the kids game of baseball, and his eventually maturity into a man who takes pride in his profession and the integrity of the game. That integrity is something else which sets this film far apart from It Happens Every Spring. Instead of coming up with a very questionable advantage to bring fame and fortune, Bill Johnson finds the importance of all pieces of the game to make it great, even the umpires he so often wanted to “kill”. I was very impressed by Bacon’s ability to handle this material in such a mature way, all the while giving it the hokey feel to keep it very light and fluffy fodder. Make no mistake about it, this is a B movie which aspires to nothing greater than a few laughs. The weight of the lesson learned is merely a bonus.
On that note, however, I will say the films greatest downfall is the final act, which goes off the rails a bit too much in an attempt to make a big finale. To this point in the film, the comedy, while physical and outlandish, was never quite this outlandish. It is entertaining, but I can tell Bacon is trying just a little too hard. But even given that, the film surprised me a great deal, and I would certainly second 1SO’s recommendation of the film (assuming his mentioning it for this marathon was in fact a general recommendation).
*** – Good
Ah, what the hell, “Kill the Umpire!”