Sunday, August 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Damn Yankees (1958) at UCLA

The second film on last night's Bob Fosse double bill, following THE PAJAMA GAME (1957), was DAMN YANKEES (1958).

Despite my love for both musicals and baseball, I'd never seen DAMN YANKEES. Honestly, I was partly put off by the cursing in the title -- which seems to have been purely for '50s shock value, as the movie isn't even about the Yankees! -- as well as the Faustian storyline.

You couldn't ask for a better way to try a new movie than on UCLA's big screen, but as it turned out, my instincts were correct; I didn't like this one. In fact, other than a couple dance numbers, I thought it was as bad as THE PAJAMA GAME is wonderful. Most of the score is completely forgettable, and the dreary story was told with a mostly low-energy, boring cast and unimaginative staging. Even things like Joe referring to his wife as "old girl" annoyed me...and Jean Stapleton? Ugh.

Middle-aged Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is obsessed with his favorite team, the hapless Washington Senators, and he makes a deal with the devil (Ray Walston) to be transformed into a young hitting star for the team, known as Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter).

Joe and the Senators rocket to success, but Joe wants to exercise the "out" clause and return to his life with his wife Meg (Shannon Bolin). The devil's accomplice, Lola (Gwen Verson), tries to change Joe's mind.

There are two memorable songs, Verdon's "Whatever Lola Wants" and the baseball players' "Heart," and there are a couple of good dances, particularly Verdon and Bob Fosse's "Who's Got the Pain." I noted, however, that Verdon and Fosse's "Let's put on a show!" type number isn't integrated into the musical as seamlessly as "Steam Heat" at a similar point in THE PAJAMA GAME.

I stopped looking at the screen during Ralston's "Those Were the Good Old Days," with a series of visuals celebrating great crimes of the past. Ugh. It was just too ugly for me to appreciate.

Verdon was peppy and Hunter was sweet, but I didn't like Walston's character and the rest of the cast was as forgettable as most of the movie.

Obviously this musical has its fans so, as the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary"! I'm glad I tried it and had the chance to see a couple good dances but I'm probably done with this one, since there are dozens of musicals out there I like better.

This film was directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen and filmed by Harold Lipstein, with choreography by Bob Fosse. It runs 111 minutes.

It's available on DVD and VHS.

May 2019 Update: This film will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


Blogger barrylane said...

Actually, it is about the Yankees. Their winning and dominant record as opposed to the Washington Senators, who were always bringing up the rear. The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant is not as catchy a title.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I take your point but although they were the winning team I felt they were little seen and had pretty much zero to do with the actual story as it unfolded.

I guess "Go Senators!" wasn't as catchy a title either but it would have made more sense to me LOL.

Best wishes,

6:57 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Not entirely my point -- The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant is the title of the source material by Douglass Wallop.

7:45 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I concur with what barrylane said about it being about the Yankees, and was indeed intending to write pretty much the same as what he did.

Having had a 16mm copy of the film in my collection back in the 1960s, it became one of our favourite musicals. I can't think of anyone who we showed it to who didn't enjoy it.

Perhaps one day you could give it a second try...

10:03 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Plus, the title plays on the Southern/Confederate manner of speaking of those Yankees. No, not those New York Yankees, but those northern Yankees. I think the title is perfectly apt.

I don't disagree with your overall take on the movie or the musical upon which it is based (and I did three productions of the show onstage), but I don't think it's that much better than THE PAJAMA GAME from the same creators, and which it apes pretty much. Both, while Broadway successes, are pretty much Grade B musicals.

I guess maybe STEAM HEAT is (slightly) better integrated into the story than is WHO'S GOT THE PAIN, but, in truth, neither of them have any good reason for being there. Both are pretty clumsily attached to a story with which they have nothing to do.

And when I worked with Tab Hunter back in 1976, I asked him his favorite director and he instantly replied, "Sidney Lumet". I then asked him his least favorite director. His answer was even more instant, "George Abbott." Almost twenty years after working on DAMN YANKEES, he couldn't keep the resentment out of his voice when he mentioned Abbott. As a stage actor, this both surprised and disappointed me because if anyone ever was a true Broadway legend, it was George Abbott.

Oh, and by the way, Applegate is played by Ray Walston, not Ralston.

4:07 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Talking about George Abbott, here's a nice little story:

He died in his sleep at the age of 107. One day in his late nineties he was playing golf with his wife, and, for the first, and, who knows, maybe fatal time, he fell down on the fairway. His panicky wife ran over to him, saw this long, lean, still, prostrate figure and shouted, "George! George! Get up please! Don't just lay there!"
He opened one eye. "Lie there," he said...

11:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for the comments! I left town briefly right after posting this so wasn't able to answer comments more promptly.

I'm rather fascinated as it's apparent, based on comments both here and on Twitter, that this film draws all sorts of reactions!

Interesting George Abbott and Tab Hunter stories! Along those lines, for those who have missed it previously, a relative of ours got to know Tab Hunter in a business setting and said he was very down to earth, a really nice guy.

Rick, thank you, I had managed to spell Walston correctly once but not the second time! I took care of that thanks to you.

Best wishes,

11:15 PM  

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