Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Take Me Out to the Ball Game


The thinnest possible plot holds together a series of song and dance numbers by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, and Esther Williams. (Right after this one the first four co-starred in the vastly superior On the Town.) Kelly and Sinatra are ballplayers who spend their winters as a vaudeville act. Yeah, right. Sinatra prefers baseball, Kelly prefers the stage. Esther Williams inherits their ball club. She and Kelly hate each other at first; naturally, they are in love by the third act. Sinatra finally falls for an aggressive Betty Garrett. That’s all you really need to know about the plot.

I’m a big fan of musicals, but this one is very lame. I don’t care that much about the plot, I come for the song and dance, and neither really measure up. Kelly had a propensity at this stage in his career to … what’s the terpsichorean equivalent of over-acting? Over-dancing? That’s what he does here. And there was this rather cringe-worthy thing they had in the ‘40s of guys acting like children, making infantile rubber faces and “gay” (in both senses of the term), fey, feminine gestures. Makes you wonder what was being repressed that found its outlet in this embarrassing stuff. Sinatra (who, for a non-dancer, manages not to disgrace himself alongside Kelly) wouldn’t lower himself to this sort of antics, but Munshin’s entire career was based on silly crap like this which doesn’t hold up. Really, really dumb stuff. There is one long signature Kelly solo which is worth looking at; the rest is pretty bad. It was directed by Busby Berkeley, who did a lot better with the gigantic black-and-white extravaganzas featuring 100 babes in white gowns playing 100 white grand pianos.

Some trivia: Most people today don’t know it, but Esther Williams was a monster star in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. She was MGM’s top box office earner for several years. Then her numbers dropped and she was dumped, with no warning to her. When I was working at MGM a long-time employee told me a story about that. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but I hope it’s true. He said the studio had laid out a big going-away party on the sound stage that contained her biggest indoor pool. All the brass was there, and the press, and stars. And she told her limo driver to go right past it all. At the studio gate she got out and thanked the security guard there, who had greeted her every morning when she arrived for work. And then she drove away, and never came back. I love that. Quote: “All they ever did for me at MGM was change my leading man and the water in my pool.”

Also: Betty Garrett was a perpetual second female lead in big musicals of the era, until shortly after this film was made. Then the panel of traitors to this country known as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) called her and her husband, Larry Parks, an admitted communist, to testify. She never did, but he refused to name names, and that was enough to get her on the blacklist. She couldn’t work for a long time. The good news is she’s still alive, still making films with cult director Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra), while every member of HUAC is currently residing in Hell, where they are forced to watch the full 10-hour version of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed four times a day (days are longer in Hell) while being force-fed gallons of Pepsi, with no bathroom breaks.