Take Me Out to the Ball Game June 28, 2016
Since I’m too preoccupied with Singin’ in the Rain to have myself readily allow for any Gene Kelly starring musical into my heart without a multitude of comparisons first, I found that I liked 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game a lot more when I forced myself to let my guard down. Because really, the two aren’t so homogenous. Where Singin’ in the Rain is a drivingly ambitious opera of musical satire, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is an easygoing studio project more willing to serve as a vehicle for its starry cast than it is to change cinema.
And because it’s directed by Busby Berkeley (42nd Street, The Gang’s All Here), a maestro of the genre, and because it is headlined not just by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire but also by the Million Dollar Mermaid herself, Esther Williams, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is a pastime perhaps too pretty and too pleasureful to pass up, despite its shortcomings. It’s a commonplace musical saved by its undemanding affability, a strength many formulaic musicals of the time managed to consistently unleash. I guess Technicolor and attractive leads can do that to you.
Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star as Eddie O’Brien and Dennis Ryan, a close-knit pair of baseball stars as serious about their careers as they are bent on someday more seriously pursuing a vaudeville act. Part of the Wolves, a fictional American League team, the men and their fellow ballplayers have gotten through the years harmoniously and with respectable success — but things are shaken up when new ownership unexpectedly afflicts them.
To their surprise, management will be overtaken by K.C. Higgins (Esther Williams), a good-looking brunette whose beauty is matched by wit. Naturally, both men fall for her, but it seems that Eddie, the more romantically experienced of the two, will prosper in courting her. And because relationships always reign equal in lighthearted musicals, Dennis, of course, gets to find happiness, too, just with Shirley (Betty Garrett), a kooky fan.
But that’s not all the action that plagues Take Me Out to the Ball Game’s feathery storyline. Also fueling the intrigue is the gang’s contending with a gaggle of gangsters scheming to rig a pivotal game for a bet. By the film’s end, all will be solved. But while watching, we may as well pretend that it all isn’t all predictability given a high budget and a stellar ensemble.
Sardonicism, though, isn’t something we’re affected by very often during Take Me Out to the Ball Game: it’s such cheery entertainment that smirking at its rich sentimentality evades us. We want to see its characters prevail, and we also want to see them dance and sing, and yes, even play ball. And that’s how it should be — optimism is a trait that is arguably required to be brought out of us during (and after) the viewing of a musical. That’s how we know that Take Me Out to the Ball Game is a good one. B