Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Death on the Diamond (1934)

I like baseball, Robert Young, Madge Evans, and Paul Kelly, so with those ingredients DEATH ON THE DIAMOND was a winner for me. It's by no means a great film, but I found it a pleasant way to pass the time.

The St. Louis Cardinals have climbed out of the cellar in the standings, thanks in part to adding pitcher Larry Kelly (Young) to the rotation. Some sinister types are betting against the team doing well. When they can't buy off Kelly -- who responds to a $10,000 bribe to lose a game by throwing a no-hitter! -- one by one his teammates start dying.

I found Young both enjoyable and credible as a baseball pitcher. I liked the small realistic touches, such as wearing his jacket over his pitching arm when he's not on the mound, or begging to be allowed to bat when it's late in the game. (And for those who are skeptical about a pitcher coming through as a hitter in a big game, Game 2 of the 1988 World Series comes to mind...) Young was 27 when this film was released, just starting to emerge from small roles into more substantial romantic leads in films such as this and THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934).

Evans plays the manager's daughter and team secretary who falls for the hotshot pitcher. Kelly, a great favorite of mine, is a newspaper reporter who works with the police to crack the murder case. Nat Pendleton is the team catcher, with Ted Healy as his nemesis, an umpire with vision problems. I find the loud-mouthed Healy quite annoying, but he does have a touching moment late in the film. Evans, Pendleton, and Healy, incidentally, all appeared that same year in FUGITIVE LOVERS.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this 1934 film is spotting a number of "faces" before they became better known. Walter Brennan is a hot dog vendor, Ward Bond is seen guarding Robert Young, Dennis O'Keefe is a game announcer (his face is half-hidden behind a telephone), and James Ellison is a pitcher for the Cubs. And you can't miss Mickey Rooney as Mickey, the clubhouse boy. Bruce Bennett is said to have a bit role standing in line for tickets, but I didn't catch him.

Robert Young's brother, Roger Moore (no, not that Roger Moore) has a bit part as No. 11 on the Cardinals. Moore was a bit player in over 200 films from 1924 to 1953.

The ballpark scenes are a mixture of second-unit photography, shot on location in St. Louis, and back projections. The back projections, along with some hokey dialogue about not taking baseball away from the American people -- murders or no murders! -- add a bit of quaint charm.

This film was directed by Edward Sedgwick, with cinematography by Milton Krasner. The screenplay by Harvey Thew, Joe Sherman, and Ralph Spence was based on a novel by Cortland Fitzsimmons. The running time is 71 minutes.

This film isn't available on DVD or VHS, but perhaps this MGM film will turn up before too long as a release from the Warner Archive. In the meantime, it's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

December 2015 Update: DEATH ON THE DIAMOND is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive. My review of the DVD may be found here.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Oops! I didn't catch O'Keefe the one time I saw this one.

6:05 AM  

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