Directed by Ray McCarey
Written by Harold Buchman & Lee Loeb
When culling my list for the Baseball marathon, there were plenty of titles in contention, and I could have easily extended my list past the 56 select films, but 56 was already quite a few, and seemed the perfect streak of a number for a baseball marathon. However, I know there are countless other baseball films out there that I am sure I will, over the course of many years, discover (in addition to, of course, new releases). It Happened in Flatbush is a title which never graced the many “best of” lists I used to help make my original list of 56 films, but having seen it air on FXM multiple times, and being such a short 80 minute run time, I decided to take the plunge and continue my baseball foray with another title which posed little in the way of commitment or expectation.
It Happened in Flatbush, for anyone familiar with the history of baseball (or geography for that matter) would know that this story takes place in Brooklyn, and though no team names are used, it can be assumed the team in question is the Brooklyn Dodgers, as the film was mostly inspired by their surprise National League pennant run in 1941. The Brooklyn team, owned by a baseball loving Mrs. McAvoy, or Mac (Sara Allgood), is in disarray after the team loses its manager. Despite advice to the contrary, Mac highers former star player Frank Maguire (Lloyd Nolan), who is best known for a folley in the World Series which cost the Dodgers back in his playing career, but Mac trusts his baseball knowledge and instincts. Matters are complicated further after the sudden passing of Mac, which leaves the team in the hands of Kathryn Baker (Carole Landis), who couldn’t care less about baseball. Soon enough, Maguire and Baker strike up a relationship which brings winning baseball to Brooklyn, but that success is soon threatened by a potential sale of the team.
The charm of a film like It Happened in Flatbush is very specific, finding its reach very small. Only baseball fans or people from Brooklyn at the time would likely be drawn to its charm, but as the years have passed I wonder still even more what its reach is today, and who might best reflect the resilient and passionate nature of the Brooklyn Dodger fan base. Brooklyn has always been proud to be Brooklyn and not New York City, and they’ve been proud of “dem bums”, the Dodgers who disappointed so many times, but succeeded just enough to keep the fans coming back year after year in search of that one lightning in a bottle winning season. It Happened in Flatbush captures this culture and atmosphere extremely well, but as I said, it is very specific, making it a film which is not very accessible otherwise.
It’s also a very slight film in its scope, focusing so closely on a single season, and a few characters as to alienate the greater picture of baseball, of Brooklyn, and all the moving parts which go into a successful baseball team. This is a small blight for the film, as it is exactly what it intends to be, which is small and very hometown-esque. The development of the team, from a baseball fans perspective, is slightly cheap, as it appears Maguire is simply persuading Kathryn Baker to open her checkbook and buy talent as opposed to Maguire actually developing it, but then again having talent is important too. The relationship between Maguire and Baker too is tenuous. Reminiscent of the 1949 film Take Me Out to the Ballgame, the player/manager falling for the female owner routine is a little tired, but Nolan and Landis have decent chemistry which makes this rendition watchable.
It Happened in Flatbush, for all it has going for it, is an instantly forgettable film. The experience is enjoyable while having it, but it lacks any lasting moments or characters or revelations which might last past the 80 minutes spent watching. If I had to frame it in the history of baseball films, I would say it does present a unique view of a community rallying behind a team, and it captures the spirit of Brooklyn in particular quite well. But its run-of-the-mill production values, mediocre cast and less than ambitious plotting set it securely in the realm of baseball movies that are fine entertainment, but fail to capture anything more than a fleeting appreciation of the game. I would liken it to a flash-in-the-pan rookie who shows hopes of future success which is never fully realized in a career that will eventually be long forgotten by the annals of history.