Take Me Out to the Ballgame at the Glasgow Film Festival

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Glasgow Film Festival.

Tuesday, 21 February, 11am – Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)

NOTE: If you haven’t met my fellow viewer Pat, be sure to check out my previous reviews before embarking on this one.

Back into Gene’s ‘great’ period this morning with a musical that is criminally underrated. Pat thought he had heard of Busby Berkeley before and as I explained who he was and how Gene was diametrically opposed to his directorial style via the “back to 1930” story — Berkeley was instructing the camera to go “back, back, back” and Gene was heard to mutter “Yeah, back to 1930”  — Pat barked rather abruptly: “Kelly should have known his place! There were other people around then, too. I mean, who did he think he was?” Hmm… Maybe this so-called “Astaire man” isn’t quite ready to join the Gene Appreciation Society just yet, or maybe this morning’s choice of music, Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba’ (chosen, I’m quite certain, by cinema staff specifically to irritate the old curmudgeon), had put him in a worse mood than I thought.

Again, Gene’s performance here in Take Me Out to the Ballgame is one of his best, particularly in the ‘Umpire’ scene and in the dinner scene with the rest of the ball team, which is so good, in fact, that I can forgive him that woefully unfunny impression of a cooch dancer. Since Gene and Stanley Donen wrote the story, it’s reasonable to assume that the scene where Gene and Jules Munshin coach Frank in his attempted seduction of that big amphibious broad with shoulders like Johnny Weismuller is a conceit of Gene’s and a result of his affection for Cyrano de Bergerac. Whatever its genesis, it’s played with genuine comic flair and had the audience hooting with delight.

Jules Munshin adds another dimension to Gene and Frank’s obvious chemistry, his Jewish sense of humour a perfect foil for the Irish hoofer and the Italian crooner – quite a cosmopolitan trio when you think about it. The ‘O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg’ number is a constant source of joy and Jules shines with his violin/baseball anecdote. I gather he divides Gene fans and that’s understandable, I suppose, given that his type of humour could be perceived as a bit too broad for some and his dancing is barely average, but I have nothing but a deep and abiding affection for him. I feel exactly the same way about Betty Garrett, she is an irresistible little bundle of joyous energy and visibly sizzles in her scenes with Frank – the ‘It’s Fate’ number an obvious forerunner of On the Town’s ‘Come Up to My Place.’

It’s impossible to know for sure exactly how much of the film was directed by Berkeley and how much of it by Gene and Stanley, the latter standing in for the former on several occasions due to his personal problems. There certainly wasn’t much scope for Gene to push the boundaries of dance on film, but with one of the great American perennials and a simple Vaudevillian construct for the opening number, who’s complaining? Another Comden and Green script helps immensely and with the added caveat of their lyric. Also, how many songs can you name that reference college suicides and the age of sexual consent in certain southern states? They also provided Gene, possibly with the help of an uncredited Roger Edens, with the only opportunity he ever had to do an ‘Oirish’ number: ‘The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore,’ complete with Emerald green cocked ‘tile,’ shillelagh and noble expression while tin whistles, bodhrans, and bagpipes segue seamlessly in and out of The Wearing of the Green. His footwork in this number is mesmerising — clean, crisp and hinting at the greatness that was to follow.

As much as I adore this film there is one moment that just… Well, two words: Look away. And is that the guys who minced around with June Allyson in that lame medieval number in Words and Music (1948) on the team? The twins that pass Jules the bread at dinner, I mean. Pat was nonplussed at the end, I’m afraid to say, and quickly went off to complain about the temperature in the cinema, Baltic, while I popped into the toilet to whistle ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’

Oh, I read somewhere that Berkeley wanted to showcase Esther Williams in one of her usual ridiculously overblown water features, but Gene vetoed the idea… God bless that guy.

The entire series may be found here: Glasgow Film Festival.

About 

I am a 40-something-year-old Scotsman with an obsessive nostalgia for the past, particularly the films of Hollywood's Golden Age and American music from the '40s to the '60s. My appreciation and love for Gene and the field in which he worked is something I hope to instill in future generations -- I'm currently studying towards becoming a teacher and firmly believe it is a role in which I can flourish, once I overcome a small, but stubborn, obstacle: a pathological hatred of teenagers.

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  • Brenda

    Hi Marc

    Enjoying the articles you are writing about your time at the Glasgow Film Festival watching Gene’s films. I went to the BFI in December and saw Its Always Fair Weather as well as meeting up with the lovely Aunt Suzy. I have to say DVDs do not do justice to his films after seeing Its Always Fair Weather on the big screen, so I evny you!! Speaking of “Oirish” I have often wondered if Gene was ever aware of Riverdance and what he would have thought of it, just a thought, as its coming up to St Patrick’ Day.

    Brenda from Ireland

  • Marc

    Hi, Brenda.

    Thanks for commenting and glad you’re enjoying the reviews, I enjoyed writing them immensely. ‘It’s Always Fair Weather’ is another of the Gene musicals I grew up with, thanks to the invention of video recorders.

    As for Riverdance, it emerged during the last two years of Gene’s life so it’s possible that he may have seen it. I’m fairly certain he would have enjoyed Michael Flatley’s attempts to redefine the genre of Irish dancing, that’s very muich in the spirit of our man.

    Marc.

  • Jennifer

    I have always thought that you were a trifle generous in your estimation of this film, and I still feel that way to some extent, but I do grant you that all in all it is extremely enjoyable.

    Firstly, though, Comden and Green wrote the screenplay? How have I not known that, after all these years? That might explain some of the gay subtext between Gene & Frank that I’ve always wondered about (I can detail some of the more obvious instances of it if you’ve forgotten them). Perhaps it was their idea of a goof on Gene & Frank.

    I too love Betty Garrett in both of her appearances in GK musicals, and I agree that Jules Munshin is a welcome third to Gene & Frank. He has his subtle moments, though I tend to prefer him in ON THE TOWN (more on that later, I presume). Betty was a natural – so likeable and effortless. She provided a much needed naturalness to the proceedings.

    I think that Gene’s acting in this is among his best, and I imagine it can largely be attributed to the off-screen animosity between he and Esther Williams, about which I’m sure you’ve heard plenty. They have good “bad” chemistry together. Along with your fellow Glaswegians, I always laugh out loud at the balcony scene, and at Frank’s attempts to be “nonchalant.” None but a gifted actor could be a Lothario in real life and convincingly girl shy on screen.

    Regarding the ridiculously overblown water feature that was left out: my recollection of Esther Williams’ autobiography was that she and Gene were supposed to do a swimming number together, which Gene was able to ixnay. She cattily asked, “Is it because you don’t know how to swim?” To which he responded, “I know how to swim, smartass.” Such was the nature of their relationship.

    I like the Irish number, but I feel like I should like it more than I do. There’s something cold and clinical about it to me. I’ve just never warmed to it. Maybe it’s the gloomy clambake set. Look away indeed!

    • Re: “I have always thought that you were a trifle generous in your estimation of this film,” I’m not a big fan of this one either. (Sorry, Marc!) It’s one of the films in which Kelly’s overacting really bothers me. In fact, I can hardly bare to watch some of the numbers for that reason. Betty Garrett and Frank, on the other hand: I can watch them and their goofy courtship(s) all day. 🙂

      • Jennifer

        Regarding overacting and some of the unwatchable numbers: I really, really intensely dislike “Yes, Indeedy.” I find the lyrics unfunny and offensive. Marc and I do not agree all the time.

        Gene does overact in some scenes. I particularly loathe how, um, amorous he acts all the time. The scene when they first arrive at spring training and he’s ogling the bathing girls is odious. The leering expression on his face creeps me out.

        Also, I’ve always wondered: what is 50 girls 50? Is this 50 girls, or 100 girls? What is the significance of saying it this way?

    • Marc

      I don’t think anybody has every used the word ‘ixnay’ in communications with me, how delightful. I had forgotten what a wonderful little word it is.

  • Marc

    You see… This is what I’m talking about! Criminally underrated. I’d take this over your barn dancing, hayseed chewing, hee-hawing Summer Schlock all day long… Come to think of it, I’d even take ‘Xanadu’ over it… Hell, I’d take High School Freaking Musical over i!

    The opening number, the train conversation, the walk into the ballpark as the camera looms over the fence, ‘Yes, Indeedy…’ What a fantastic opening 15 minutes.

    I thought Comden and Green wrote the screenplay, but according to IMDB they didn’t, so perhaps some tighter research might have been in order… They did write the lyrics for most of the songs, though, that I do know.

    I’ve always loved the clambake set and the way the Irish number begins with a couple of older Celts demanding that the younger man join them. And strike me down, but I just adore the hackneyed and clichéd references to an Irish ‘hooley’ that includes fiddles that are fiddling, pipes that are piping and coleens that are smiling like it was the wedding night.

    I’d have this in my Gene top 5, easy.

    • But High School Musical is positively delightful, a cleaned-up little version of Grease! 🙂

  • Michelle

    FYI, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen wrote this story and sold it to be adapted into a movie. Marc, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your 8 part series from start to finish! Wish I was in Glasgow to enjoy this treat. Oh, I’m very envious!

    It’s a crying shame that we do not have a “Kelly Festival” here in US, given this is Gene’s centenary. May be the planning is in the works? Whatever! Anyway, thanks a million for sharing; this made my month!

  • marcorr

    Hi, Michelle.

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Clive Hirschorn said in his biography that Gene and Stanley were ‘grossly overpaid for their efforts,’ with regards to the ballgame story. I always felt that was a bit harsh.

    I’m glad you had as much fun reading the series as I had writing it, and I, too, find it more than a little astonishing that no similar festival is being held in the States this year.

    Nevermind, it’s still early in the year… Don’t lose hope.

    Marc.

    • Michelle

      You are welcome. Not holding my breath for a similar Kelly Festival in the US; I want to live! Sorry, just the cynic in me. LOL!

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