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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949)

The trio of pics Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly made @ M-G-M haven’t aged very well. ANCHORS AWAY/’45 was 140 minutes of war-time uplift (plus Kathryn Grayson); ON THE TOWN/’49 is fondly remembered, but only for its fab NYC opening. This one’s the middle child and it suffers from forgettable tunes by its associate producer Roger Edens and a hopeless plot that tries to mix professional baseball & vaudeville. Esther Williams & Betty Garrett are around for romance, Edward Arnold gets to play villain, and Jules Munchin hams things up when Kelly lets him, all to little avail. Yet, the film holds real interest as the last directing credit for past master Busby Berkeley (he decamped after shooting the dialogue scenes) and as the first for Kelly & young Stanley Donen (who appear to have taken over most of the musical numbers). It’s hard to know who did what, but you can’t mistake Donen’s signature camera boom shots. Some numbers look like trial runs for their masterpiece, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN/’52, and in the Garrett/Sinatra ‘It’s Fate’ number, Donen shoots on location, without the usual studio lenses, lighting & sets. How’d he get away with that?* Be sure to check out Sinatra’s stellar perf of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s stunningly beautiful "Boys and Girls Like You and Me’ which shows up on the DVD Extras. It outclasses everything else here. But when Kelly’s signature comedy number with Williams tanked, it had to go. (Tip: Zoom in to read the scale @ Frankie’s baseball weigh-in: 122 lbs!)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *If you want to see Stanley Donen cut loose on a baseball diamond, try DAMN YANKEES!/'58. Lots of fun, great score, sexy Gwen Verdon and a weirdly flat ending.

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