Monday, August 23, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

I've always been fond of this film, which I saw on TV several times growing up; I was also fortunate to see it on a big screen at L.A.'s Tiffany Theater, circa late '70s.

The plot isn't anything spectacular, and the score (mostly by Roger Edens, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green), while catchy, is middling; by today's standards some lyrics also haven't aged well. That said, the pleasing cast in a colorful film with a baseball theme has always worked for me, drawing me back to the film many times over the years -- and it now looks better than ever, thanks to the Warner Archive.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the second of their three films together; they had previously made ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945), while ON THE TOWN (1949) would be released eight months after TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME.

In TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME Kelly and Sinatra play Eddie O'Brien and Dennis Ryan, infielders on the World Champion Wolves baseball team in the early 1900s. The two men also pair up for a vaudeville song-and-dance act in the offseason.

As the new season is getting underway, the team is introduced to the new owner -- and the men are all greatly surprised when K.C. Higgins turns out to be a woman named Katherine (Esther Williams). K.C. soon proves she knows baseball inside and out, and what's more, she's got a great throwing arm.

Dennis initially has a crush on K.C., while he's simultaneously pursued by enthusiastic Shirley (Betty Garrett); Eddie and K.C. clash but eventually recognize they've developed feelings for one another. Meanwhile, gangster Joe Lorgan (Edward Arnold) wants Eddie to throw games...

Kelly and Stanley Donen cowrote the story for the screenplay by Harry Tugend and George Wells, and they also did the choreography. BALL GAME led to Kelly and Donen codirecting ON THE TOWN, followed by SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955).

As mentioned, the story of this 93-minute film is fairly flimsy. The movie's other biggest issue is that I find Kelly's arrogant Eddie hasn't worn well over the years, and Eddie becoming involved with mobsters makes him even less likeable.

I used to think that Kelly wasn't especially well-matched with Williams but have revised that opinion; Williams has such a strong personality herself that it's just what's needed to take Eddie down a peg or two. (The actors are said to have clashed somewhat offscreen as well.) The bubbly, confident Williams is absolutely delightful in this, even with just one brief but charming swimming scene. Her line readings are note perfect, with great timing, and she even sings a little; the lady could do far more than swim!

Sinatra's wonderful in every way, handling comedy, dancing, and of course singing with ease. His opening dance number with Kelly impresses me more every time I see the movie; not everyone could pull off some of those moves, even with MGM training, but he's flawless. It's a great pleasure watching these two pros performing together.

I've always had a soft spot for the high-energy Garrett, who I saw a couple times in her one-woman stage show in the late '70s. (Now that I think about it, I also saw Sinatra in concert, circa 1983.) This film at times seems like a dry run for Sinatra and Garrett's roles in ON THE TOWN, but Garrett has a much better wardrobe in this movie!

The gowns by Helen Rose look absolutely stunning on the new Blu-ray, as does every other aspect of the film. I've been extremely impressed with the Warner Archive's MGM musical releases, and this film must surely be tied at the top of the list for brilliant picture quality. The Technicolor absolutely pops, and the picture is so crisp that for the first time in my life I could even make out a seam in the "sky" backdrop at the big clambake sequence. Rather than finding that bit of reality distracting, I was fascinated, including the fact that I was able to notice it.

The clambake, which combines important romantic developments with the songs "Strictly U.S.A." and "The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St. Patrick's Day," is probably my favorite part of the movie. There are some fun things to pick out in this sequence, including actress-dancer Sally Forrest prominently featured in the chorus of "Strictly U.S.A." Later in 1949 Forrest would star in NOT WANTED (1949), the first of three powerful dramas she made with director Ida Lupino. What an interesting career year! Forrest had also been a chorus dancer in Sinatra's THE KISSING BANDIT (1948) the previous year.

Fans of "recycled" costumes will want to check out a post by The Blonde at the Film, who points out a couple of dresses from THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) which turn up on chorus girls at the clambake.

I also love the memorable tune about the double-play team of "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg," which Kelly and Sinatra perform with Jules Munshin as first baseman Nat Goldberg. It's one of those hummable tunes which stays with you.

Also of note: The final number breaks the "fourth wall," including Williams and Garrett ribbing Kelly and Sinatra with the names Astaire and Crosby. It's an unusual bit but does, as the lyrics suggest, end things "on a happy note."

This was the last feature film directing credit for Busby Berkeley, who would continue to work as a choreographer. The movie was filmed by George J. Folsey. Richard Lane and Tom Dugan costar.

Blu-ray disc extras consist of two deleted musical numbers, which are always especially welcome; the trailer, a cartoon, and a song selection menu.

While not the best of MGM, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME is a film I've returned to many times over the years, which I think says something about its overall value. Musical fans will definitely want this spectacularly beautiful Warner Archive Blu-ray.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

I like the film as you do, but your observation about Kelly struck me as just right, and not only this picture, to some degree all of his work. I knew people who swear by Gene, but I am not one of them. Sinatra is as usual, perfect and Esther Williams is just a love.

8:02 AM  
Blogger CLASSIC TV FAN said...

I know BETTY GARRETT best from her appearances on ALL IN THE FAMILY. She played the neighbor IRENE LORENZO, married to FRANK(VINCENT GARDENIA). Betty played the part well. One of her episodes was where EDITH was worried because she found a lump in her breast. There was a great scene between Edith and Irene.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Barrylane. It's interesting, I had quite a crush on Kelly as a teen and had no issues with his characters -- I think I enjoyed seeing them gradually mellowed by love. But in recent years I've had less patience with that aspect of his persona, though I still admire him tremendously as a dancer and filmmaker. Glad to know you also enjoy the movie and cast.

It was nice to see Betty Garrett turn up on TV "back in the day," Classic TV Fan.

Best wishes,

6:57 PM  

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