Well, what's more fitting and American on July 4th then a movie about our nation's favorite passtime. OK, OK, I actually forgot to return the DVD to the library, so since I was paying for it, and I didn't have any other plans, I decided to watch Take Me Out to the Ball Game
, an entertaining musical comedy, which while good, will not be entering my pantheon of movie musicals (to numerous to name) or baseball movies (basically, Bull Durham
, Pride of the Yankees
, and Major League
). Turn of the century America, Gene Kelly's short-stop Eddie O'Brien and Frank Sinatra's second baseman Dennis Ryan split their year, playing for the world champion Wolves for half the year, then hoofing it up on the vaudville circuit for the other half. The duo, along with the apparently gay, Jewish first-baseman Goldberg, are the stars of team. O'Brien is a womanizing braggart, more in love with the idea of his vaudville career than his baseball career; Ryan is a shy, virginal, romantic who thinks pretty much only about baseball. A romantic triangle, of sorts, develops between the two and the Wolves' new owner, KC Higgins, played by Esther Williams (and yes, they do manage to get her in a pool for one scene); though it's clear that the mutual antagonism between O'Brien and Higgins is only a cover for their mutual attraction; instead, the rather wishy-washy Ryan is swept off his feet by the assertive and dominating presence of Bettty Garrett's baseball groupie. Oh yeah, there is a subplot involving some gamblers led by Edward Arnold, which leads up to the big pennant game.
The film is directed by Busby Berkely, and it is a rather conventional piece of direction, nothing like his Vitaphone Orchestra movies for Warner Brothers; and Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly collaborated on staging the musical sequences, all under the tutelage of legendary MGM producer Arthur Freed. I felt the movie was more of a stepping stone for the Freed Unit, to the later, better musicals like On the Town
, An American in Paris
, Singin' in the Rain
, and The Bandwagon
. Still, the movie moves along at a quick pace, the romance is sweet, and it's funny, and while none of the musical numbers really stands out in my mind that much (with one exception), they were rather well done.
The one musical number that really stands out in my mind is the last one, which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, though ostensibly, it's a return to the O'Brien-Ryan vaudville act. What makes it interesting is that it is self-reflexive, something you typically don't see in movies of that period (unless you're talking about a Crosby-Hope road picture, a Marx Brothers movie, or Hellzapoppin
), even in anti-realist genres like the musical. Kelly and Sinatra refer to themselves by name in the number, and to the screenwriters who developed the admittedly generic plot. And then they refer to contemporary stars (of the late 1940s, that is), even if the film's storyworld is the turn of the century. An interesting curio since most Freed Unit movies were reflexive, they referred to movies, but didn't overtly call attention to the fact that they were movies. Perhaps, a matter of further research.