Baseball is one of my many loves, and I decided to celebrate the start of the new baseball season by watching a baseball film I'd never seen before, IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING.
IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING is a fun fantasy starring Ray Milland as a milquetoast professor who accidentally discovers a formula that repels wood. The formula makes the professor an unhittable baseball pitcher, a "talent" he hopes to use to earn enough money to marry the college president's daughter, played by Jean Peters. Paul Douglas plays the pitching professor's loyal battery mate.
Milland is perfect as a Superman-type character, a professor with glasses who baffles batters with his "ball with a hop." Off the field, Milland's mysterious "absent-minded professor" personality perplexes his protective catcher, Douglas. Douglas is always a likeable actor, and this film is no exception. Peters is winning as the college girl who loves the shy professor; incidentally, although there was a difference of over two decades in Milland and Peters' ages, the gap did not appear to me to be that extreme onscreen.
The supporting cast includes Ray Collins, Jessie Royce Landis, Ed Begley Sr., Ted de Corsia, and Alan Hale Jr. Sandra Gould (Gladys Kravitz of BEWITCHED) is the voice of Douglas's wife heard over chattering over the telephone in several scenes. Debra Paget is said to have a bit part but I didn't notice her.
The movie somewhat calls to mind Disney's THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR (1961). Although the film is a comedic fantasy, it was nonetheless interesting to me that it never raised any ethical issues. Pitchers have been scuffing balls since the game began, but Milland's pitcher is a hero from beginning to end, and never seems to once consider whether what he's doing is right or wrong. Instead, his big concern is whether or not his future father-in-law -- who hates sports -- will find out that he's become a baseball player.
When the movie ended I was interested to learn from Robert Osborne that Major League Baseball didn't want anything to do with the film because the film's baseball hero is a cheat. The MLB Commissioner couldn't be persuaded that the movie should be accepted as simply a fantasy.
The film's college backgrounds looked like USC, including Bovard Auditorium, and I was able to find confirmation of this in an article posted on the Turner Classic Movies website. Additionally, Bovard Field at USC was used for baseball sequences, along with Wrigley Field in Los Angeles.
IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It was shot in black and white and runs 87 minutes.
As he did with MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, screenwriter Valentine Davies turned his Oscar-nominated screenplay into a book.
IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING has been released on VHS. It has not yet had a DVD release.
The movie has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which calls it "an overlooked charmer of a comedy" on the TCM website. TCM has the trailer available here.
Since this is a 20th Century-Fox film, it could also show up in the future on Fox Movie Channel.
I hope to review some other new-to-me baseball films in the near future. Milland also starred in RHUBARB (1951), in which Douglas played a bit part, and of course Douglas starred in the original ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951). There are several other baseball films I've not yet seen, including IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (1942), THE STRATTON STORY (1949), THE WINNING TEAM (1952), and MR. BASEBALL (1992).
In the meantime, IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING is recommended as a most enjoyable way to kick off a new baseball season.
Update: IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (1942) is reviewed here.
December 2012 Update: This movie is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.