Directed by Stanley Donen & George Abbott
The Yankees, as was mentioned previously in this marathon, seem to be the evil team in just about every baseball film ever made. As this marathon as seen, that is not necessarily true. However, they are the enemy here, as should come as no surprise to anybody. The Washington Senators are the good guys, and in fact the infatuation of Joe Boyd, who drives his housewife mad with his baseball obsession. Glued to the television for each game broadcast, Joe bemoans the Senators inability to beat the Yankees. While venting on the porch one night, he is approached by Mr. Applegate, who offers to make Joe the savior of the Senators, for the small price of selling him his soul (we’ve heard that one before).
Joe agrees and becomes Joe Hardy, the out of nowhere superstar for the Senators. But will Hardy’s greatness be enough to beat the Yankees, will Joe Boyd’s disappearance strain his relationship with his wife, and more importantly, will Joe get out of this with his soul, or will Mr. Applegate get his way? The concept for the film, based on a Broadway musical, is quite good, yet the execution seems lacking, which is most unfortunate. The most remarkable part of the film is just how unremarkable any of the song and dance numbers, assembled by Stanley Donen, are. A major disappointment given the past success of Donen. The lack of engaging musical numbers detracts from the core story each time they come up, as the standard narrative is actually quite interesting and entertaining on its own. The musical almost ruins the rest of it.
Heartthrob Tab Hunter actually surprised me as Joe Hardy. His good looks go a long way, but he inhibits the character enough to draw sympathy, and make us believe underneath it is Joe Boyd, longing to return to his wife. The baseball action is believable with Hunter too. He does look the part of a ball player. Ray Walston plays things a little too big without any payoff for my own taste as Mr. Applegate. The redemptive story of Lola (Gwen Verdon) is admirable, albeit less sincere than it could have been). Verdon does her best, but much of this story feels too forced. Ultimately the film is enjoyable and the baseball aspects keep it interesting, but it folds under its own ambition of being a knockout musical in addition to being a baseball drama. Take Me Out to the Ball Game is the superior baseball musical at this point.