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In filming the life story of Grover Cleveland Alexander, Warner
Brothers made it a story of redemption when in fact it was a story of
tragedy. But 1952 movie audiences wanted their happy endings.
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1887-1950) was possibly the greatest right handed pitcher in National League history. He played for 3 teams, the Phillies, Cubs, and Cardinals and compiled 373 lifetime victories over a 20 year period.
While still in the bush leagues Alexander sustained a serious head injury when a ball struck him right between the eyes while he was a base runner. He had double vision and headaches for a year. During World War I while an artillery officer the noise of exploding shells compounded a seemingly healed injury with a complication of epilepsy. To anesthetize himself, Alexander took to drinking some of that Prohibition whiskey and became an alcoholic.
After leaving baseball in 1930 for the next twenty years, Alexander drifted to all kinds of menial jobs, occasionally making headlines with some alcohol related incident. One positive headline was his election to the Hall of Fame in the second round of elections. He was on hand for the dedication of the building in Cooperstown.
In 1950 Alex was on hand as the Phillies won their second National League Pennant. Alex was the star of the first pennant winning team in 1915. A month later he was found dead in a cheap rooming house.
That unfortunately is the sad truth of the real Grover Cleveland Alexander. This is not the film you will see.
Ronald Reagan is just fine and actually comes close to the character of the real Alexander who was a genial and kind man with a terrible drinking problem. This was the final film Reagan made while at Warner Brothers.
Doris Day in her second film with Reagan plays Amy Arrants Alexander, his loyal, faithful wife. In her memoirs Doris wrote that during the shooting she and Reagan had a few dates and she remembers him best as a good man who was quite a dancer when they went out. This film also qualifies as a musical for in the beginning Doris has a Christmas number, Old St. Nicholas, and Reagan joins her for the last two bars. Ronald Reagan actually did sing in one of his films.
Today Hollywood would have no problem filming the real story which was quite a love story. Amy Alexander married Alex 3 times and divorced him twice, both those divorces an effort to give him a wake up call.
But the widow Alexander was an adviser on the film and she got the film made to show the public the husband she wanted them to remember.
And baseball fans the world over remember Grover Cleveland Alexander as a great baseball pitcher and a decent and patriotic man whose service to his country caused him a lifetime of triumph and tragedy trying to control the pain in his brain. It's a good legacy that doesn't need any embellishment from Hollywood.
Grover Cleveland Alexander was a remarkable pitcher and lived a very
interesting life in an era in which baseball sported the most colorful
people in its history: the early 1900s. Some of stories about them,
like this one, are very inspiring, too, although they end this bio on
Alexander's high note not his tragic demise - but what's wrong with
that? People want to leave the theater feeling good, not depressed.
Ronald Reagan does a decent job portraying "Alex," except for the baseball scenes where he doesn't throw or hit like a real big-leaguer. That was common in classic sports films. You don't see that now. Robert Redford ("The Natural"), Kevin Costner (several baseball films) and the like, know how to play the game.
This is corny in spots and it's sugar-coated like some of the other classic sports stories. However, Alexander is shown with his drinking problem and his wife, played by Doris Day, also does the wrong thing walking away from her husband in his time of need.....so you do see some bad with the good. Yet, all ends well and overall, it's an interesting movie.
What's more, the climactic scene actually happened in real life where Alexander turned into a World Series hero despite the odds against him.
If you really want interesting stories, read the real-life accounts of men like Alexander, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Matthewson, John MacGraw, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, etc. They are fascinating.
In "The Winning Team" Reagan is the great early baseball star Grover Cleveland Alexander. Unimaginitive direction makes this film a little dry, but Reagan's solid performance as the pitcher who has a tragic accident early in his career and yet refuses to quit, is well worth the effort to watch it. Reagan gives a realistic portrayal of the flawed hero who makes a surprising comeback and with the help of his wife, and ignores the ugly rumors that surrounded his occasional blackouts. His performance on the field in the final moments, despite suffering from his affliction reflect the courage that it must have taken the real Alexander to stay at the helm till the ship sailed home. I recommend this film to anyone who likes baseball and certainly to fans of Reagan, who has been often disparaged as an actor, when it was usually the director or the film itself that was really bad. I also recommend Kings Row, Hasty Heart and Law and Order, all of which are solid Reagan films.
Not a great film, but entertaining for baseball fans. Ronald Reagan
plays Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers in big
Doris Day, a great actress, is outstanding as Aimee, his wife (this film is worth watching just because Doris is in it).
The real life Alexander served in World War I and also was an alcoholic.
The movie covers the baseball career of the great pitcher (who won 28 games as a rookie, 373 overall). The movies' biggest fault was it ends with Alexander's heroics in the 1926 World Series in St. Louis upset of the powerful Yankees. In 1928,the Yankees slaughtered the same Cardinals team in a four game sweep, with Alexander, still pitching at age 41, getting shelled in two starts.
Actual baseball footage at the end of the film shows the great Babe Ruth inexplicably trying to steal second base, with the Yankees trailing, down to their last out in the series (he was thrown out).
This is an average and generally somewhat interesting film biography of
baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose life does provide
plenty of material for a movie. Although the portrait of Alexander is
somewhat stylized, it is relatively straightforward in bringing out the
less admirable events in his life. Overall, it follows the usual
formulas for such films, with a reasonable degree of success.
Ronald Reagan gives a solid if unspectacular performance as Alexander, with Doris Day as his wife giving it a little more energy. The supporting cast is decent, with Frank Lovejoy probably getting the best opportunities as Rogers Hornsby, although the character takes some noticeable liberties with the Hornsby of baseball history. There are also numerous other factual inaccuracies about the players, stadiums, and so forth. In this respect, it's somewhat interesting as a contrast to many recent biographical movies.
Recent movies sometimes make better efforts to get the minor details right, but then they often distort the larger picture to promote a pet view of history or of a historical character. Older biographies like "The Winning Team" might be more likely to change factual details to fit a dramatic story, but less likely to distort the broader view of events.
Regardless of all that, this is a reasonable picture, without many significant strengths or flaws. It's probably mostly of interest to baseball fans or to those curious to see Reagan's role.
Ronald Reagan delivers one of his best screen performances as baseball
great Grover Cleveland Alexander in THE WINNING TEAM. The title refers
to the mutually supportive relationship between Alexander and his
loving wife Aimee (top-billed Doris Day); with this in mind, is it any
surprise that the real Aimee Alexander served as the film's technical
adviser. What was left out of the script & film was that Aimee married
her husband three separate times after twice divorcing him to as she
said stop him from drinking. THE WINNING TEAM was directed by Lewis
Seiler who went from directing 2-reel silent comedies to making
westerns with legendary Tom Mix. Among his best sound films are
GUADALCANAL DIARY and some DEAD END KIDS & CHARLIE CHAN films. THE
WINNING TEAM was produced by Bryan Foy a long time friend of Ronald
Reagan's as they made so many "B" films together he was jokingly
referred to as "keeper of the B's" (low budget, shorter films to play
second on a double bill). Foy directed the very first all-talkie
feature film LIGHTS OF NEW YORK in 1928 and he produced the most
successful 3-D film of the 1950's, HOUSE OF WAX in 1953. And yes Foy
was one of the sons of vaudevillian Eddie Foy.
Grover Cleveland "Old Pete" Alexander lived from 1887 to 1950. He was a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938. In his 1911 debut, Alexander led the league with 28 wins (a modern-day rookie record), 31 complete games, 367 innings pitched, and seven shutouts. He was drafted into WWI and in France was an artillery officer, where he suffered from shell shock and partial hearing loss. Injuries from playing baseball and battle fatigue lead to more physical problems and alcoholism. After the film was finished Ronald Reagan was disappointed that it was not made more clear that Alexander suffered from Epilepsy, the studio banned the use of the word in the film because of a social stigma at the time. Modern examples of controversy might include living legends Pete Rose and Mark McGuire. But it has been suggested that the drinking was due to his fear (which the film touches on) from not understand epilepsy and the seizures that he had. Notable Achievements include: 373 career wins (3rd all-time); Won 20 games or more 9 times, won 30 games or more 3 times; Pitched 90 shutouts (2nd all time); Won NL Pitcher's Triple Crown in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1920; World Series champion (1926); National League pennants (1915), (1918) In 1999 he was ranked number 12 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Ballplayers of all time.
Ronald Reagan best known as our 40th President, started his acting career as a sports caster in Des Moines, Iowa which led to being a play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs. In 1937 he moved to Hollywood and debuted in LOVE IS IN THE AIR. He appeared in dozens of B films. In the 1939 Bette Davis "A" film DARK VICTORY, Reagan got good notices which led to better roles as in George Gipp (win this one for the "Gipper") in the sports bio KNUTE ROCKNE: ALL American and George Armstrong Custer in SANTE FE TRAIL. He was never Oscar nominated but many consider his role in KINGS ROW to be his best performance. In 1951 he made his first film with Doris Day, it was a KKK drama called STORM WARNING. During the 1950s he was a democrat and fought communism as the head of the Screen Actors Guild and while working in television as host of the General Electric Theater he switched to the Republican Party in 1962. He met his wife Nancy Davis while making the film HELLCATS OF THE NAVY. His last film was THE KILLERS in 1964. In 1966 he was elected Governor of California and the rest they say is history.
Doris Day turned 87 this past April 3rd, she was born Doris Mary Ann Von Kappelhoff in Evanston, Ohio. At 14 she won a talent contest on a Cincinnati radio, the band leader joked she should change her name to something shorter for a marquee. The song she sang was "Day by Day." Doris Day was soon discovered by band leader Les Brown and their hit SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY sent her to Hollywood where she made ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS in 1948. Her song, "IT'S MAGIC" was Oscar nominated for best song. Among her many film highlights are CALAMITY JANE, TEACHER'S PET (her favorite), LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, THE PAJAMA GAME, Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THAT TOUCH OF MINK and PILLOW TALK (my favorite) where she was Oscar nominated for Best Leading Actress. Her TV career included THE DORIS DAY SHOW, DORIS DAY TODAY & DORIS DAY'S BEST FRIENDS. She is now retired, living in Carmel California, a full-time vegetarian and an animal rights activist.
3rd billed Frank Lovejoy plays Rogers Hornsby another ballplayer who befriends Alexander. You may not remember his name but you will recognize him, square-jawed, intense, no-nonsense Frank Lovejoy played a succession of detectives, street cops, reporters and soldiers in films. He made his Broadway debut in 1934 and with his gritty, authoritative voice was perfect for radio making thousands of old time radio show appearances on "Gangbusters", "Night Beat" and "Damon Runyon Theater".
Winning Team, The (1952)
*** (out of 4)
Pretty good, if watered down, drama about the career of Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (Ronald Reagan) who started life on the farm but quickly made a name for himself as a pitcher. When his career was apparently over he started to suffer from alcoholism but his wife (Doris Day) gets him back into shape so that he can make a comeback. Once again we have a bio-pic that has been fictionalized but even with this the movie manages to be very entertaining from start to finish thanks to some very good performances. I think there are a few minor issues with one of them being the fact that the studio forced the producer's to cut down on some of the more darker moments. The alcoholism issue is only touched for a few seconds and Alexander's battle with epilepsy is pretty much overlooked. Another minor problem is that this is a movie about Alexander yet a lot of the attention goes to the wife. Day got top-billing but this is certainly Reagan's movie but at the same time there are many scenes that are obviously here just to give Day more scenes and this includes a really bad singing sequence around Christmas time. With all of that said, the rest of the movie is pretty much a winner. Baseball fans are really going to eat up seeing how they were playing back in the day plus we get to view the old-time uniforms and even better is that we get to see some of the old baseball stadiums. There's also quite a bit of stock footage used to try and re-create some moments of the 1926 World Series, which was against the New York Yankees and their Murderers Row. This was Reagan's final film at Warner after fifteen-years worth of service and they certainly let him go out on a high note. I thought Reagan was very believable in the role and manages to look quite natural as a pitcher and he also managed to be very believable in the part of the farm boy. The early scenes with him struggling with his disease were extremely well-done and this ranks as one of the actors better performances. Day is also in top-form even though I think we could have used a little less of her character. Frank Lovejoy gets a good bit as Rogers Hornsby and we get some real-life players including Jerry Priddy, Bob Lemon, Peanuts Lowery and Irving Noren. Frank Ferguson, who most will remember from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, plays Day's father here. Again, if you're wanting to truth on Alexander then it's best you go read a book but if you're just looking for some quick entertainment then this film does the job.
When film began, Grover Cleveland Alexander was a teenager--while
Ronald Reagan was almost 40! singing?! This is a biopic about the
career of one of the greatest pitchers in major league history, Grover
Cleveland Alexander. If you look at the man's statistics, they are
staggeringly impressive. Because of this and Alexander's later medical
issues, it's not at all surprising they made this film. What is rather
surprising, however, is that they chose Ronald Reagan to play the man.
When the film began, he was supposed to be a very young man--while
Reagan was nearly 40! He did fine in the role, however.
The first half of the film sticks reasonably close to the facts. If anything, it underplayed the greatness of the man (such as not even mentioning his three consecutive 30 win seasons and winning the triple-crown three times). However, around the middle of the film, the story gets hokey--and deviates very far from the truth. While Alexander did have problems with epilepsy and alcohol following his stint in WWI, the film made it look like his life and career fell apart. It also shows him being out of major league ball for some time until he cleaned himself up--but this just isn't true. He never had a losing season and still had excellent statistics until his final season in ball (when he was 43)--and the lengthy downward spiral in the film just never happened. With a career record of 373 and 208, he clearly was no bum! Overall, "The Winning Team" is a highly enjoyable and highly inaccurate and sensationalized film. While I do recommend it (it's well made and interesting), it seems sad that a great man's life was so distorted just to see a few extra tickets. But, that was pretty common for Hollywood during this era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Platonic ideal of a 1950s biographical movie. Hardly a word or a
scene is believable. It's so stilted and unimaginative that I rooted
for it to win.
When I was a kid the theaters were filled with nonsense like this, colorful life stories of extremely famous celebrities nobody ever heard of, and gaudy musicals with songs from the Old Stone Age, all from the teens and 1920s. It wasn't until some years had passed that I realized that, for most of the audience, these people, events, and songs were still alive in their memories, no farther behind them than the Beatles are behind us.
Grover Cleveland Alexander, a Nebraska farm boy (Reagan), is a natural pitcher who is discovered by a minor league team and plays ball for them during the summer. The problem is that his girl friend (Day) doesn't want him to be a baseball player. She wants to settle down with him on a nice farm with a picket fence and a rose garden and build a stable home. Already the movie has left originality behind on a distant horizon, hidden in a cloud of stirred-up Nebraska loess, and it's only fifteen minutes into the story.
But never mind. Day moons over the conundrum for a while longer and then decides to marry him anyway, after he's offered a contract with a major league team in Philadelphia.
Alexander is a success in 1911. He's a great pitcher. We know this because there is a montage of Ronald Reagan winding up, throwing a ball past the camera, and leaning into it with a big grin. There is also a montage of a proud and smiling Doris Day pasting newspaper clippings, bespeaking triumph, into a huge scrap book labeled in gilt "Grover Cleveland Alexander".
Little did they know that tragedy lay just around the corner. Somewhere along this time line -- I forget exactly where in Alex's dazzling rise to fame -- he gets clipped by a bean ball and is knocked out. He wakes up with diplopia -- seeing two of everything. Now, this is unwelcome news for a famous baseball pitcher, and Alex retires to the farm for a year, unreconciled to his disorder -- partly because he's convinced he can still PITCH if only it weren't for his eyes, and partly because he can't spell diplopia.
Then -- a miracle! He wakes up at night, goes to shut the window, and he sees only ONE MOON! And before you know it he's back in the game. However, tragedy lies just around the corner. No, no, the diplopia is gone for good. This is a different tragedy.
It's 1918 and World War I is upon us. Alex is drafted and is an artillery sergeant. The constant booming of the cannons makes him a little hard of hearing but, worse than that, he begins to get dizzy spells. After a triumphant return from the war, a dizzy spell causes him to pass out on the mound. The spells return. Alex sees a doctor in secret who tells him gravely that "science doesn't know much about these things." He is SO right, because doctors are not screenwriters. Writers know all the details of mysterious illnesses -- what the symptoms are, when they should appear and when they should go away. Based on Alex's description of the symptoms, my Dx is temporal lobe epilepsy. That will be ten cents.
The mysterious dizzy spells cause him to start drinking and he winds up a bum in some shabby carnival as so many heroes of these biopics must -- Joel McRae in "Buffalo Bill", Tyrone Power in "Nightmare Alley." He's rescued by an offer to return to the majors by an old friend, with the complicity of Doris Day, and a gigantic hole appears in whatever logic the plot holds. His dizzy spells disappear on the pitcher's mound, as long as he can look into the stands and catch the refulgent splendor of Doris Day's big white grin. At the very end, at the most critical moment, with the Yankees at bat and the bases loaded and the count three and two, Day is delayed in reaching Yankee Stadium, and Alex looks worried and sweaty, and the shapes begin to waver and shift, and -- and -- I had to close my eyes because I couldn't stand the tension so I can't tell you what happened.
I applaud this movie because instead of just one tragedy -- either the double vision or the dizzy spells -- you get two. This ratchets up the suspense to the Red Alert level. Also, Doris Day is mighty saucy.
Don't miss this if you want to see a typical biographical flick from the 1950s. Definitely see it if you want to know why "they don't make 'em like this anymore" and feel happy that they don't.
Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander, a telephone lineman and would-be farmer in early-1900s Nebraska who harbored one of the best pitching arms in baseball history. First pitching for the Phillies, and later the Cubs and the Cardinals, Alexander was sidelined continually in his career by a baseball accident, the war of 1917, and finally blackouts which were falsely attributed to alcoholism. This Warner Bros. throwaway isn't especially well-written or well-made, with archival footage and false backdrops making up the final third, however Reagan is very appropriate for the lead. Top-billed Doris Day (as Grover's saintly, determined wife) is around for moral support and romantic uplift; Day does what she can with the role, though the part as written is fairly preposterous. **1/2 from ****
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