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The Wolves baseball team gets steamed when they find they've been inherited by one K.C. Higgins, a suspected "fathead" who intends to take an active interest in running the team. But K.C. turns outs to be a beautiful woman who really knows her baseball. Second baseman Dennis Ryan promptly falls in love. But his playboy roommate Eddie O'Brien has his own notions about how to treat the new lady owner and some unsavory gamblers have their own ideas about how to handle Eddie. Written by
Gene Kelly took this idea to Arthur Freed about an original musical which would combine two big loves of his, baseball and the dance. The story would be based on Al Schacht and Nick Altrock who played ball during the regular season as pitcher and catcher and then in the off season toured in vaudeville. So Take Me Out to the Ballgame was born. In fact the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame was written during that era of Theodore Roosevelt.
But instead of a battery, the story revolved around a double play combination of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin. Right in the same Teddy Roosevelt era the famous double play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance was doing great things for the Chicago Cubs. So it seems natural that a nice novelty number of O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg seemed in order for this film.
Vaudeville and baseball are not complete strangers either. During the previous century Michael 'King' Kelly, colorful star catcher and base stealer for the Cubs toured in vaudeville. Rube Marquard the number two pitcher for the New York Giants in the second decade of the last century married musical comedy star Blossom Seeley and toured with her as part of her act before they broke up.
In fact the original idea in Take Me Out to the Ballgame was to have Leo Durocher play the Jules Munshin part. Of course it would have been a lot different role then. Durocher hung out with a lot of show business types, one of his best friends was George Raft. That got him in some trouble, but that's a story for another film.
Kelly and Sinatra essentially play the same roles they did Anchors Aweigh. Sinatra doesn't get as many good numbers as he did in that film, but he does have a very nice ballad, The Right Girl for Me who he thinks might be Esther Williams as he sings it to her. Of course Betty Garrett gets in the picture and she has some different ideas.
Esther Williams was not kind to Gene Kelly in her memoirs. She gets only one brief dip in a pool in a one piece bathing suit that was just being popularized at the time of this film by Annette Kellerman. Of course Esther later played Annette Kellerman in another film. She had a lot of trouble with the dance numbers because as she explained it, the muscles one develops for swimming are not the same as those needed for dance and she was really as she describes cruelly razzed by Kelly and Stanley Donen. She grew to dislike him intensely.
Kelly's best number is The Hat Me Father Wore on St. Patrick's Day, a nice Irish jig number that he does with style. Busby Berkeley directed the film, but the kind of mammoth musical number that typifies his work is only seen in the ensemble song, Strictly USA.
The plot involves some gamblers trying to fix the pennant race against the heavily favored Brooklyn Wolves, Kelly and Sinatra's team. Edward Arnold is the number one fixer. As we well know, gambling and baseball weren't strangers back in the day. Players were hardly paid what they are today and in the days before Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first Commissioner, fixes were talked of in hushed tones. Kelly gets tricked and tempted.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame, the first good musical film on baseball, a harbinger for Damn Yankees and nice entertainment.
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