Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949)
Hey, bro, you wanna watch a sports movie?? Yeah! Get pumped! Just some guys showing off true athleticism and also they sing duets together! *grunt* Order some hot wings and pick your spot in the man cave, it’s time for “MGM’s Gay Technicolor Musical” Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) and Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) are members of a baseball team known as the Wolves. During the off-season, however, they are vaudeville performers.
Picture… shit, I can’t name two baseball players. Big Papi? Babe Ruth?
Picture Big Papi and Babe Ruth doing this. Zing! Still got it!
Their team is bought by a woman named K.C. Higgins (Esther Williams). Gasp?
Hey, she can’t base the ball because she have the boobies!
Love triangle. One of Ryan’s fans is hot for him. Then, surprise, gangsters try to rig the big game?
Well, this was totally out of left field.
HA. BASEBALL PUN. WOOOOO.
And… that’s it. Eh, they can’t all be winners. This was a script with ideas in it, but they never really tied them all together, you know?
Gene Kelly is a fun-lovin’ baseball player that likes to sing.
What a rascal!
Frank Sinatra is a fun-lovin’ baseball player that likes to sing.
What a rascal!
Jules Munshin is a fun-lovin’ baseball player whose character isn’t a professional stage performer but, since he’s in a musical, he likes to sing.
What… what a rascal.
Sorry if it seems like I’m phoning this in, but I don’t have much to work with! This movie doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on character. Well, the male characters, anyway. The three lads are just charming goofballs and that’s that. Esther Williams does a fine job as a take-no-shit lady with a vulnerable side, which is kind of refreshing for this era.
Her condescension game is strong.
And Betty Garrett is sorta funny as a crazed fan named Shirley that stalks Ryan.
Oh, come on, he’s barely conscious.
Everybody’s fine. Good job, actors. You’re… you’re all fine. Everything’s fine.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Did you know this movie was directed by Busby Berkeley? Yup, the man responsible for some the most jaw-dropping musical sequences of all time. So what kind of elaborate set pieces and complex choreography can you expect in Take Me Out to the Ball Game?
Mostly just a couple of guys singing.
First up is that 1908 classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which you’ve heard before and, by God, you’ll hear it again. We see O’Brien and Ryan ham it up as a duet in their vaudeville act, Higgins sings it to herself in a swimming pool apropos of nothing, and the tune permeates the score constantly.
I think I’m developing an allergy to peanuts and Crackerjack.
When O’Brien and Ryan return from touring, their baseballin’ buds only wanna hear about one thing: how many gals they plowed across the country! This kicks off “Yes, Indeedy,” an uptempo number that’s melodically very intriguing, but the pure delight these two take in the idea of utterly fucking up the life of every woman they meet is, honestly, psychopath-level stuff.
Spoiler alert, we’ll come back to this one.
Then the boys celebrate just how good they are at baseball in “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg,” an infectious tune in which they reminisce about some of their wildest games as they act out those crazy plays. They also reveal that Goldberg first learned how to bat by hitting a tomato with a violin.
Uh, then Ryan sings some boring love song to Higgins with his arms crossed. Eh. Snooze.
I guess I should tell you the title is “The Right Girl for Me.”
Later, Ryan’s #1 Fan Shirley adds to the psychopath count with “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate.” Yeah, the tune is plenty catchy, but the lyrics are straight up, “I will fucking follow you everywhere until you realize that we’re meant to be together.” And all the while she’s belting out this Pepé Le Pew anthem, she physically restrains him from leaving. Repeatedly. Fun?
God, it makes “Every Breath You Take” look downright subtle.
When the Wolves travel the country for their away games, we’re treated to a celebration of Americana called “Strictly U.S.A.” that I honestly think might be the inspiration for the theme song to American Dad! As items that epitomize this great nation of ours are listed off… “like a hot dog covered in mustard,” to give one example… we get the closest thing we’ll see to an elaborate Busby Berkeley group dance number, so I’ll take it!
Show more leg, ladies! And where’s the giant fountain??
And then… O’Brien sings a song about a goddamn hat. It has nothing to do with anything. He snatches a green top hat off of somebody’s head, a bystander asks, “Hey, where’d ya get that hat?” and then he responds by singing that it’s “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore upon St. Patrick’s Day.” First, pretty weird that that exact hat was just sitting on top of some rando, and second, you watched him take it off of that guy’s head. I know, it’s probably one of his vaudeville acts and I should just shut up and enjoy the routine (which features some amazing tap dancing), but dammit, musicals, stop making everything magically fall into place!
Stupid movies and their stupid fun!
The final scene of the film is a number that I can’t find the title of anywhere, so I’ll call it what I jotted down in my notes: “Some Fuckin’ Meta Wrap-Up Song.” See, you think it’s all over, then we cut to a vaudeville stage and O’Brien and Ryan and Higgins and Shirley beg you via song not to leave the theater just yet. The actors refer to each other by their real names, talk about the script, and even list off Hollywood stars they wish had played their romantic costars instead. And they sing, to the tune of “Strictly U.S.A.,” about good old-fashioned fun with nothing of substance, “like potato chips or comic strips.” Did… did this movie just try to brainwash me into liking its silly bullshit?
Orders received. Baking the President an apple pie as we speak.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
One of the gals O’Brien macked on in “Yes, Indeedy” is revealed to be eleven years old… and that’s still not the worst part of “Yes, Indeedy.” Turns out Ryan dated a woman who fell so deeply in love with him that she failed all of her college courses and commit suicide. Even if they’re blatantly making up every single conquest in the song, listen to what all the fellas gleefully hoot, holler, and laugh over…
“She couldn’t study, love made her tipsy,
Her teachers wouldn’t pass her so she just turned on the gas
And now the sweetest gal at Vassar’s in the
Cold, cold ground…”
You know, this Musical 52 experiment has introduced me to some truly classic films. Also, some real stinkers. But, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is a musical with an important quality: mediocrity. For how can we appreciate those cinematic heights and depths without some entirely average entertainment in the middle? It’s got a kinda good story, with kinda nice performances, and some kinda catchy songs… they just don’t ever add up to more than the sum of their parts. I’ve previously referred to Hope and Crosby’s Road movies as the cinematic equivalent of candy, but since this film bonks you over the head with how mindlessly fun it’s supposed to be, it’s more like a candy commercial.
Lastly, I’m disappointed to report that there’s no musical number that takes place during a baseball game, so the best film I’ve seen that features singing in the midst of an athletic competition is still High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
White Christmas (1954)