US Release Date: 04/01/1949
Directed by:Busby Berkeley
- Frank Sinatra, as
- Dennis Ryan
- Esther Williams, as
- K.C. Higgins
- Gene Kelly, as
- Eddie O'Brien
- Betty Garrett, as
- Shirley Delwyn
- Edward Arnold, as
- Joe Lorgan
- Jules Munshin, as
- Nat Goldberg
- Richard Lane, as
- Michael Gilhuly
- Tom Dugan, as
- Slappy Burke
- Pat Flaherty, as
- World Series Umpire
- Douglas Fowley as
Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Take Me Out to the Ball Game started as an idea of Gene Kelly’s. He and longtime collaborator Stanley Donen, came up with the story. Kelly was a long time baseball fan. He even once said, “I never wanted to be a dancer. It's true! I wanted to be a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.” Kelly was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not only is he given story credit for the movie but he also staged the dance numbers with Donen.
Kelly originally wanted Judy Garland for the lead, someone he considered, “The finest all-around performer we ever had in America was Judy Garland. There was no limit to her talent. She was the quickest, brightest person I ever worked with.” In 1942 he made his film debut in For Me and My Gal with Garland and co-starred with her in The Pirate (1948). Unfortunately for Kelly, Garland was at a low point in her career and the role Kelly wanted her for ended up going to Esther Williams, who wrote in her memoir that Kelly was difficult to work with and that he treated her poorly. She believes it was partially because she was in the part that he wanted for Garland. This was Busby Berkeley’s last directed film and he supposedly had an idea for an elaborate swimming pool routine with Williams and Kelly but Kelly vetoed the idea.
Even if they did not get along on the set, it never shows in their performances. Gene plays his usual likable lug and although she was nowhere near the performer Garland was, Williams was very attractive and had a nice figure, especially obvious in her one brief swimming scene. Add Frank Sinatra singing some songs and Betty Garrett’s humorous pursuit of him and you have 90 minutes of pure MGM musical gold.
Sinatra and Kelly play Dennis and Eddie, two baseball players around the early part of the 20th century. In the off season, they are vaudeville stars doing a singing and dancing act. When they report to spring training they discover that they have a new owner in the form of Esther Williams. Of course there is an adjustment period of having a female boss but also an inevitable love story. The real crutch of the story does not happen until the final third of the film when Eddie starts moonlighting on a show sponsored by men who are betting on his team to lose the World Series.
As a musical, the songs are mostly light and breezy and never slow down the pace. It opens with the title song, performed by Kelly and Sinatra and then when they meet the other players in Florida, they sing a song about all the girls they were “with” in the off season called, “Yes, Indeedy”. Although the song is played for laughs, it contains a very disturbing line. When singing about a girl they met in the south, the guys sing, “She said my kisses were from heaven then I found out she was eleven.” Eeeeuuuuh! Sinatra gets to croon a love song, “The Right Girl for Me”. Betty Garrett sings the movies funniest number with, “It's Fate Baby, It's Fate” where she seems to be contemplating raping Sinatra on the ballpark bleachers. The movie ends with the four leads performing “Strictly U.S.A.” where Kelly and Sinatra refer to each other as Kelly and Sinatra. They also each name other MGM stars in the song with Kelly mentioning Garland.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game is weak on plot but a very pleasant watch for fans of the genre or stars. It is not the classic musical that other MGM movies of the time became but it was a hit, so Sinatra, Kelly, Garrett and Jules Munshin all teamed up again next for On the Town, released later that same year. All four pretty much played the same characters and most would agree that it improved on the formula begun here.
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Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Although I'm a big fan of both Sinatra and Kelly, and think that they made a pretty great song and dance team, I was less enamored of this film overall than Eric. It's an amusing, but very, very lightweight, little film. On the Town, which was released later the same year with much of the same cast, as Eric mentioned, is a definite improvement over this one.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is that, despite the title, the baseball takes a backseat to the love stories. I wasn't expecting a full-on sports movie, but a little more action on the field wouldn't have gone amiss. The best baseball moment comes at the climax when Kelly, angry at Sinatra, gets a hit just so he can catch him by chasing him around the bases.
I've always found it ironic that Sinatra played the virginal innocent in his early MGM films. Given his fame and reputation as a ladies' man, with well documented extramarital affairs all through the 1940s, I've always wondered, did audiences of the time see his innocence as an inside joke, or did news of his affairs not become public knowledge until later? And although both Sinatra and Kelly were still well into their prime, they were of course both in their mid-30s by the time they made this film, which makes the joke about it being time Sinatra learned about women seem even more tongue-in-cheek.
Although the plot of 2 professional baseball players moonlighting as vaudeville performers might seem farfetched, it wasn't until the 1960s and '70s that baseball players were able to live strictly off of their baseball earnings. In 1951, Yogi Berra was a 4 time world champion and the American League MVP, and over the winter he sold suits at a store in Newark, NJ alongside fellow Yankee Phil "Holy Cow!" Rizzuto.
I wish I hadn't read Eric's review before watching, because knowing that the female lead might have gone to Garland, kept me imagining how she would have brought a little more spark to the part. Williams is attractive, especially in the wet bathing suit scene Eric mentioned, but in terms of talent, she wasn't a patch on Garland. Not to mention, the missed opportunity of witnessing a rare Sinatra/Garland duet is heartbreaking.
Perhaps I sound a little too harsh about this pleasant little film, because I did enjoy it. At just 90 minutes, it moves pretty quickly. And even though the songs aren't exactly classics, they are still performed by Sinatra and Kelly and in terms of classic Hollywood musicals it didn't get much better than that. The final song, is a bit of an oddity in that the actors step out of character, but the lines where Williams and Garrett mention Astaire and Crosby is worth a laugh or two.
Even though Take Me Out to the Ball Game isn't the best film Kelly and Sinatra made, either together or separately, for any fan of their's, it's definitely worth a watch.
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Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Betty Garrett in Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Although a pleasant little musical, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is the least appealing of the trio of movies Kelly and Sinatra made together. The songs performed by the two of them (especially the dance numbers) aren't as memorable as the songs in either Anchors Aweigh or On the Town. The title song at the beginning being the only truly classic number in the entire movie. This clip was shown in That's Entertainment! and it's the best (and most vigorous) dance number Sinatra ever performed on film. While he still can't match Kelly's effortless hoofing, he had improved noticeably in the four years since Anchors Aweigh.
It's easy to see why the four principals were all chosen for On the Town. The characters they play are all remarkably similar and I agree wholeheartedly with my brothers, and just about everyone else who's seen them both, that On the Town improved on Take Me Out. Poor Jules Munshin gets just one number, although it is a pretty good one. He joins Sinatra and Kelly for a catchy ode to double plays called “O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg”.
It's interesting that Esther Williams disliked working with Gene Kelly. Twenty years later Barbra Streisand would have a similar experience working with him on Hello Dolly!. I don't know whether Mr. Kelly had a problem getting along with strong women or if he just felt that both women were miscast but in both cases whatever animosity they felt doesn't show on the screen.
Kelly is playing his usual horn-dog role but I thought Eddie O'Brien comes across a bit sleazier than his characters in either Anchors Away or On the Town; in particular in his behavior towards Esther Williams' character. In the scene where she shows him how to improve his swing he gets very hands on with a woman he just met in a way that qualifies as sexual harassment today. Fortunately the scene ends with her “unintentionally” hitting him on the head with the bat.
Sinatra sounds great as usual and he dutifully plays a part he's years too old to play. The game of sexual cat-and-mouse between him and Betty Garrett isn't as funny as it is in On the Town but I agree with Eric that the number “It's Fate Baby, It's Fate” is worthy of a few chuckles. Eternal heavy Edward Arnold is pretty much wasted late in his career.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game doesn't strike out but it comes nowhere near the bleachers.
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Photos © Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (1949)