Musical Monday: Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) – Musical #14

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Betty Garrett, Edward Arnold, Jules Munshin, Richard Lane, Tom Dugan, James Burke (uncredited), Sally Forrest (uncredited), Douglas Fowley (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in the early 1900s, K.C. Higgins (Williams) inherits the Chicago Wolves baseball team and the team is shocked when they find out that K.C. is a woman. Pals and part-time vaudeville performers Eddie O’Brien (Kelly) and Dennis Ryan (Sinatra) are on the team. Dennis has a crush on K.C. and Eddie clashes with her because he both wants to date her and doesn’t want a woman leading the team. There are further issues when gambler Joe Lorgan (Arnold) tries to prevent the team from winning the pennant.

Trivia:
• The film was originally supposed to star Judy Garland and then June Allyson. When Allyson became pregnant, Williams replaced her, according to Williams’s autobiography.
• Story idea developed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.
• The song “Baby Doll,” which Gene Kelly sings to Esther Williams was deleted from the film.
• The song “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” which Frank Sinatra and Betty Garrett performed was deleted.

Highlights:
• Jokes about Frank Sinatra’s thin stature.
• Technicolor cinematography
• Helen Rose costumes.

Notable Songs:
• “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” performed by Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra
• “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate” performed by Betty Garrett and Frank Sinatra
• “Strictly U.S.A.” performed by the Chorus and Betty Garrett, Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly

My review:
Early in my musical exploration, there were several musicals I was so excited to watch and ended up being disappointed when the film ended.

I saw “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” back in high school and hadn’t seen it since. Back in 2003, I loved Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, so I was thrilled to see two of my favorites together. When I decided to give this film another try, I didn’t remember liking the film then, and now I can say that this feeling hasn’t changed.

In the film, Frank Sinatra plays Dennis Ryan and Gene Kelly plays Eddie O’Brien. Dennis and Eddie are baseball players who perform in vaudeville during the off-season. Once the season begins, Dennis is passionate about baseball, but Eddie is more concerned with dating women.

The whole team is thrown for a loop when they find that the new owner of the team, K.C. Higgins (played by Esther Williams), is a woman. Dennis falls in love with her while Eddie hates that their team is run by a woman, but he too eventually falls for her.

I don’t find this film or the characters very likable. The character played by Gene Kelly is a jerk, and Frank Sinatra was still being cast as innocent “oh gee whiz” characters. In the female lead, athletic, Olympic swimmer hopeful Esther Williams plays a woman in the 1900s running a baseball team. Though her character struggles with sexism from the team, it’s hard to believe that someone of her background (and height) would have a hard time handling this. Considering the original female leads, I think the writers originally had a petite and dainty female in mind, which would have made the character a sight gag.

The original female leads were supposed to be Judy Garland and then June Allyson when the story was developed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Garland (who was 4′ 11″) and Allyson (who was 5′ 1″) are both petite women, who have played other roles where their stature and zest were part of the comedic story. Maybe this film would have worked better if they had been cast? I doubt it though, because that doesn’t fix the issues of flawed music and the male characters.

Esther Williams who was 5’8″ and athletic doesn’t quite fit. Williams wrote in her autobiography that she, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen didn’t get along while making the film. She recommended that it’s because she was taller than Kelly’s 5’7.” That could be, but knowing both of their strong personalities, this isn’t surprising.

Since Williams is in the film, they did throw in a random obligatory swimming scene for good measure.

Betty Garrett and Edward Arnold appear 40 minutes into the film. Garrett plays the usual character she was cast as from 1948 and 1949 – the man chaser. This time she is chasing Frank Sinatra. Edward Arnold plays a gambler wanting Eddie (Kelly) to throw the baseball game. Arnold chuckles his way through a thankless role.

Stepping back from the acting and storyline, the Technicolor cinematography is pretty, as are Helen Rose’s costumes.

As for the music, aside from an energetic performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by Sinatra and Kelly, most of the songs by Roger Edens, Betty Comden and Adolph Green aren’t very good. And the lyrics to “Yes, Indeedy” were questionable. For example:
I kissed a gal in old Poughkeepsie
That`s where the college of Vassar’s found
She couldn’t study, love made her tipsy
But she just couldn’t pass-er,
And so she just turned on the gasser,
So the sweetest gal at Vassar’s in the cold cold ground.

What?

Then the song and dance “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore upon St. Patrick’s Day” felt like it lasted for 30 minutes.

The finale was fun with vibrant red and blue costumes, but the song had weird “meta” lyrics where the performers (who were set in the 1900s) sing about themselves as actors. Very odd.

One of the few highlights of this film is that we get the rare opportunity of hearing Esther Williams sing. I always love to hear a non-singer perform.

Anyways, apologies to anyone who is an ardent fan of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” I find it difficult to watch or like.

Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Esther Williams, and Gene Kelly in the finale of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Thank you for reading! What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.