Directed by Ray Enright
Written by William Wister Haines
When I was originally amassing the list for my Baseball marathon a little over a year ago, Alibi Ike is a title that came up, and I would have liked to have included it, but for availability purposes I had to pass on it. Thank heaven for TCM, as I was able to catch up with this comedic baseball film recently and include it as part of my supplemental section to the aforementioned baseball marathon. It is not a well known baseball film, as could be evidenced by my struggle to find a way to watch it, but it does surprisingly have one pretty big star on the cast, Olivia de Havilland, who is best know for her work alongside Hollywood director Michael Curtiz and star Errol Flynn, among other works such as Gone with the Wind and The Heiress. de Havilland has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw her in The Adventures of Robin Hood, so I was as excited as ever to find out she was in this film, her first big screen role.
Alibi Ike is a “colorful” baseball narrative, following the exploits of one Francis Farrell (Joe E. Brown), better known as Alibi Ike for his penchant for crafting the most outrageous excuses to explain his behavior. The catch is that this chronic liar also happens to be a great baseball player. So when the struggling Chicago Cubs sign “Ike” to be their ace pitcher, the Cubs go on a magical run of winning baseball games and zany madcap follies courtesy of their star player. After being introduced by the manager’s wife (Ruth Donnelly), Farrell and Dolly (de Havilland) begin to fall in love, though Farrell hides his affections from his teammates for unknown reasons. After getting mistakenly caught up in a gambling ring, Farrell must fight his way out to prove himself a good man, and not the game fixing crook some believe him to be.
Alibi Ike is a laughably dumb movie, but what it has going for it is that it knows this, it capitalizes on this, in much the same way that other dumb slapstick comedies have done, like Dumb & Dumber for instance. The fact that the plot is impossible, with the main protagonist actually rather unlikable for his quirky character trait of always feeling the need to lie about what he is doing or make excuses for his performance or tardiness, does not detract from Joe E. Brown’s physical comedy or the ability of the implausible situations he finds himself in to make me laugh. Alibi Ike is not a good movie, and it’s not totally redeemed by its ability to make me laugh, but make me laugh it does, and for this reason it can be safely placed in a category of enjoyable, very short comedy films. It even, at times, reminded me of the absurdity of something like Rookie of the Year, a fun, funny and utterly dumb baseball movie.
Joe E. Brown, an actor whose work I had not seen previously, was really the star of the film for his ability to contort not just his physical performance, but also in how he twists and turns the truth in his lines. Farrell manages to dig himself into an insurmountable number of holes with his lies, but Brown is always capable of a laugh along the way to cover up the constant face-palming his character warrants from observers. While watching the film, I was struck by how little de Havilland was used, only to find out that this was her first film in the business. She is delightful as ever, but really Dolly has so very little to do that it makes this a rather forgettable role for Olivia de Havilland.
There are not a ton of takeaways in a film like Alibi Ike. It’s rather like a film you can watch casually and immediately forget about, despite being entertained and enjoying yourself while doing so. It’s a throwaway comedy from the studio system which works as a vehicle for Brown’s brand of comedy, and it works well. If you can get past the absurdity of the situation, which I know many won’t and even I struggled to, there is a nice little funny film underneath. Alibi Ike isn’t much more than a laugh, but Brown’s unorthodox pitching delivery and the antics he provides within the framework of a baseball film make this a film worth checking out for devout fans of the genre, even if it’s not going to be all that memorable.