Sunday, March 31, 2013

Take Me Out To The Ballgame – Turner Classic Movies Style

Monday, April 1st is the opening of the major league baseball season.  In actuality, the first game of the season is being played as I write, March 31, but I’ve always thought that particular Sunday Night Game Before Everybody Else Plays as a bullshit bush league move on the part of MLB and ESPN.  From the day they decided to pull that nonsense years ago, it pretty much crapped on one of baseballs time honored tradition.  That was, because they were the first professional team in existence, the Cincinnati Reds always had the honor of being the first team to open the season.  If their game started at one, all other games would usually start a tad later. 

This event is tantamount to being a holiday in Cincinnati.  They have a parade, there’s a lot of pre game hoopla,  and the local newscasts are taken over by the whole event as if Jerry Springer had just returned to town having been elected president.  Now, there’s a thought.

When I lived in Ohio, I made it a point to do my best to watch the event on television.  I never had a chance to be there in person, but I wish I had accomplished that feat at least once.  Despite the attempt by MLB and the almighty advertising dollars of ESPN to water it down, it’s still a big deal for the people of Cincy.  So the Astros's, the Rangers, Texas in general, MLB, and ESPN can go screw themselves.

I don’t follow baseball the same way that I once did.  I still keep track of the Reds and how they are doing by checking scores and the standings on occasion, but I couldn’t tell you too many names of the players on their roster or when was the last time I watched a complete game.  It’s not always been like that.

When I first moved out west, it was almost as if I hadn’t left the Reds behind.  Back in 2001 you could listen to the games for free on the internet by streaming from just about any radio station in the country and that included the Reds home of WLW in Cincinnati.

That didn’t last long and when MLB found out there was a buck to be made, that was the end of the freebies unless you did it illegally.  It’s not worth the trouble for me to bother. 

But all this accomplished as far as I was concerned was to make me less of a fan.  It was a cheapskate move on their part then and still is.  Charge all you want to for streaming video of the games.  I don’t care, because I won’t be paying.  But taking away the audio streaming rights from local stations was a pure b.s. move and I still feel the same way.

Turner Classic Movies is having their own celebration by broadcasting seven very classic almost forgotten baseball films.  All except one in living high definition black and white.  And I’m sure some of you will find them infinitely more entertaining than watching your team get their ass kicked over the course of 168 games again.  I won’t mention names.

You won’t see The Natural here, nor Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, Eight Men Out or even Bang The Drum Slowly.  Nor such idiotic worthless crap as Little Big League or Rookie of the Year.  They showed Little Big League on my cross country flight once.  I gave thought to jumping out somewhere over the Grand Canyon.

The films you will be able to watch are as follows, with times being EDT.  Adjust accordingly for your own zone:

Of the films listed here, I am most familiar with the top three.  Of the others, the only one I have seen and know something about is Kill The Umpire.  

In that film, William Bendix plays a fanatical baseball fan named Bill Johnson who is forced to become an umpire to make a living because his love of the game interferes with his life.  Due to the fact that that he uses some eye drops on the day of his “tryout” game, he begins seeing double, so he makes every call twice.  The guy that does the umpire hiring thinks this is a pretty cool gimmick, hires him, and gives him the name “Two Call Johnson.” Later, he is nearly chased out of town when he makes a close call against the home team in a playoff game.  It’s harmless comical fluff and not a bad way to spend an hour and twenty eight minutes.

As for Fireman, Save My Child and Take Me Out To The Ballgame, I can’t recall having seen either one.  And since Take Me Out is a musical with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, I’m sure I would have remembered it especially since I still have Kill The Umpire planted in my memory circuits.  Why I never crossed paths with it, well your guess is as good as mine.  But now I feel compelled to so I will record it tomorrow.

I also know absolutely nothing about Fireman, Save My Child except that it sounds more like a public service announcement than a baseball film.  The

IMDB gives this synopsis:

Joe Grant is an inventor, fireman and baseball player in his small home town. He gets an offer to play in a big team, he hopes to get more money for his inventions. But he is invited to present his invention to a fire-extinguisher company at the same time when he is supposed to play. Will he be able to show the effectiveness of his invention and win the game ?
The film stars Joe E. Brown, who as Jack Lemmon’s boyfriend Osgood Fielding III, delivered what is considered the ultimate, funniest line ever to end a film.  That was for Some Like It Hot (1959).

For my money the unsung gems are the first three films listed.  I’ve seen all of them several times over the years.  I wrote a brief review of Angels in the Outfield when I rented it from Netflix and back when I attempted to do something new in that regards.  That project turned out to be way more time consuming than I thought it would and you can’t do a movie review justice in just a paragraph or two so I’ve had to dispense with it for now.  You just as well write, “I liked the film.  It was good” because that’s about what it amounts to.  You can get a zillion comments like that on Amazon and IMDB anyway, which is why I put out the effort to do more.  Also because I just like doing it.

Please don’t mistake this version which has the great Paul Douglas as manager of the Pirates with the totally insipid Disney remake that came along in 1994 and included super angel special effects and people flapping their arms like they are angel wings at an Anaheim Angels game.  Believe me, it is the simplicity that makes the 1951 version so much better. 

In The Kid From Left Field, Dan Dailey plays ex-major league ball player Larry “Pop” Cooper.  Pop works as a peanut vendor who is more interested in what is what is happening on the field more than pushing peanuts.  At the same time, he teaches his son everything he knows about the game and he knows quite a bit.  He has way more knowledge than the manager of the team for which he works, the Bisons.  Through a series of circumstances, Pops gets fired from his peanut paying peanut job, his son Christie (Billy Chapin) becomes the bat boy, and then manages to relay the information imparted to him by Dad to the Bison’s roster, thus turning them into a contending team.  Eventually, it is Christie who becomes manager even though Pop is the one pulling the strings.  This was also remade as a Gary Coleman TV vehicle.  (Or should I say an Arnold Jackson and Benson DuBois get together?)  Forget that one as well and watch this one.   

In the case of, It Happens Every Spring, I’ve seen it many times.  In fact, I have a digital copy of it on my computer which I recorded on VHS off Cinemax years ago.  I transferred it onto my hard drive so that I could write a review that I still haven’t gotten around to.  I wrote one years ago for the IMDB, but most of my early reviews on there were a POS.  Now that it has returned to cable, I wish I hadn’t put it off.

The film is available on Amazon and from the Warner Archive Store on DVD.   I may wait until I can pick up a copy which hopefully is sooner rather than later.  But it’s a totally overlooked hilarious gimmick film, not acknowledged at all by Major League Baseball who views Professor Vernon’s  discovery as cheating.  Of course, there is no cheating in baseball, just steroids and an occasional spitter/greaseball.   The latter having been made into an art form by one Gaylord Perry.  Oh, and I guess Angels interfering in the field of play is okay too since MLB lent its license to that film.  Here is my plot synopsis from my original review:

Professor Vernon Simpson (Ray Milland) is a chemistry professor at a Midwestern college. He is in love with the Dean's daughter, Deborah Greenleaf (Jean Peters) and hoped that someday they would be married. College professor's salaries being what they were in the late forties, his only hope of being able to financially support Miss Greenleaf depended on an experiment he had devised that would one day change the world.

Like all normal American men of his day, Vernon gets caught up in the Rite of Spring better described as the opening of the baseball season.  He’s also  twitterpated by the Dean’s daughter as well so I guess the title does have a double meaning.

One day while in his lab working intently on his experiment, some of the young college students are outside practicing baseball. Unfortunately, an errant ball comes crashing through the window destroying the Professor's experiment and mixing his chemicals into a convoluted mess. Or so he thought.

While cleaning up the destroyed experiment, Vernon accidentally discovers that the mixture of chemicals left behind has the unique ability to resist wood. After testing the formula in his lab, he recruits the young college baseball players to scientifically examine the reaction of this chemical when applied to a baseball.Having acquiring enough data to prove to himself that when the formula is applied to a baseball, no hitter could touch it, Professor Simpson has no alternative but to offer his services to the St. Louis Team (you’re to take it for granted they are the Cardinals, although the Browns were also in existence at that time as well so choose one.  The Browns later became the Baltimore Orioles)  who are themselves in desperate need of pitching. Although skeptical at first, the owner of St. Louis gives Vernon a tryout in an attempt to embarrass him.  It is Vernon and his secret formula that teach the manager and the owner of St. Louis a thing or two, and they sign him to a contract that would pay Vernon $1,000 dollars for every game he wins.  A princely sum in those days I suspect.  At one point a newspaper shows that Vernon has won 38 games, and this is before the season is over and the world series where he pitches in at least another three.  If he were playing now, he would probably be paid at minimum, a million dollars a game.  Do the math.
If you can only catch one of these films, It Happens Every Spring should be the one. Paul Douglas is in this film as well, as a catcher who uses Vernon's formula as a hair tonic to hilarious results.  And if you can’t watch it, add it to your sports collection while you can.  Yeah, that’s a sales pitch. 

Have a great baseball season, hope your team does well, and in homage to Joe Nuxhall, a Cincinnati Reds broadcaster who should be in the Hall of Fame but isn’t, this is the old movie reviewer rounding third and heading for home.  Now go de-halo the Angels, Reds!

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