Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) is one of several films to feature Gene Kelly partnered with Frank Sinatra. I am a huge fan of both performers, so I love these movies. On the Town (1949) and Anchors Aweigh (1945) are on my list of favorite Gene Kelly films, and the Gene Kelly Blogathon (hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association) gave me an excuse (in case I needed one) to explore the third in the series. If you’re interested, there is a film collection on DVD. What’s more, TCM’s Summer Under the Stars is honoring Gene Kelly today in recognition of his one hundredth birthday, and that just fills my heart with glee.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game portrays the adventures of Dennis Ryan (Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Kelly), two baseball players doubling as a vaudeville act. They help lead the Wolves through championship years and provide musical entertainment everywhere they go. In addition to Kelly and Sinatra, this film features Esther Williams (the Million Dollar Mermaid), Betty Garrett, Edward Arnold, and Jules Munshin as the fantastic character Goldberg. Entertaining connections: Betty Garrett also plays Brunhilde Esterhazy (a cab driver who has a thing for Frank Sinatra’s character “Chip”) in On the Town, and played in Neptune’s Daughter with Esther Williams. Betty Garrett gets to spend a lot of time chasing Frank Sinatra. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Williams plays K.C. Higgens, who has just inherited ownership of the team and knows more about baseball than they would think and has more opinions than they would like. Too bad she’s beautiful … Yet again, we watch Gene Kelly teach Frank Sinatra about attracting the opposite sex. Naturally, Higgens and O’Brien end up falling in love and endure a complicated courtship. Ryan falls in love with her, too, but Shirley (Garrett) manages to win his affections in the end, and believe me, she earns it.
As you might expect, Ryan and O’Brien perform the famous “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (the 1927 version, not the 1908, if you’re astute enough to know the difference. I wasn’t so knowledgeable, but I know a lot about using Google–I looked it up). My other favorite number was “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg,” depicting their famous double-play strategy that’s the key to their victories. The number is catchy and entertaining, even if you are a blasphemer, like myself, who doesn’t particularly care for baseball. It’s all about the rhythm, and I tend to love Gene Kelly’s trio numbers, anyway (“Good Morning,” anyone?). They may not all be as famous as his other routines, but I enjoy them quite well.
Interestingly, several songs were deleted from the film: one of Frank Sinatra crooning to Shirley (which makes me kind of sad, but it was deemed “too slow”) and “Baby Doll,” which features a bizarre dance number between Kelly and Williams that could easily have inspired the toy routine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and is just plain weird in this film. Removing Sinatra crooning is just wrong, but they did spare us the somewhat awkward (in the context of the film) number that did no justice to the dancing talent. For this reason, I give the editing 3.5 stars.
Despite re-running many elements amongst each other, I love the films in this series. Each one is its own delight. Overall, I have to say I prefer the sailor films to baseball, but this is one is still a lot of fun. We get the pleasure of the singing Sinatra and dancing Gene Kelly, which is what matters most. Gene Kelly performs with his usual charm and enthusiasm. He plays a character that would be obnoxious, except that he’s Gene Kelly. He often plays these characters, and I cannot help but love them. It doesn’t seem to matter if the musical numbers are excellent (think Singin’ in the Rain) or maybe longer than they needed to be (this film did have some of those, I’m sorry to say)–watching him dance makes you want to join him. If you could keep up. Which I can’t. It’s pure joy onscreen every time.
No matter what he’s doing, you just know it’s Gene Kelly. I have strolled through a room, glanced at the television, and known that it was a Gene Kelly piece–even without knowing the film. He brings all of his “Kelly-ness” to everything. You have to appreciate that sort of thing.
This film is a winner when you want something light and frivolous. It’s a good choice for a Memorial Day or Fourth of July film that’s a little different, since it is baseball after all, and it does have some patriotic undertones and a patriotic number. Perhaps it’s cliche, but I think I would definitely recommend this one with a hot dog, chased by peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
This post has a double function: as a contribution to the Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association, and as another entry in the 2012 TCM SUTS blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. Share the Gene Kelly love with everyone you know today!