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Sunday, September 20, 2015

THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS (1952)

This baseball biopic on ‘30s pitcher ‘Dizzy’ Dean, is a programmer that knows its place, pleasant piffle that sticks to the basics, doesn’t oversell itself, and works up considerable goodwill. As the future Hall of Famer, Dan Dailey doesn’t show much zip on his pitch, but a lanky athletic bod & thick neck help him look the part. Plus, that easy con man’s charm to help him get away with Dizzy’s sulky, bad behavior . . . for a while. Joanne Dru is almost too attractive as the forgiving (if knowing) wife, while the debuting Richard Crenna already gives rock-solid support as kid brother/fellow pitcher ‘Daffy.’ The usual sports story arc is in place: Dizzy rises fast on natural ability; throws his arm out thru pure hubris; hits bottom (drink & gambling); followed by a return to grace; unusually for a baseball pic, sans tears. Never twas a falser line spoke than ‘There’s no crying in baseball.’ It’s just about the weepiest cinematic field of dreams out there. (And for the Baby Boomers: cameo appearance by Chet Huntley.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/DOUBLE-BILL: This was the final credit of the near-great, infinitely troubled Herman J. Mankiewicz, co-writer, with Orson Welles, of CITIZEN KANE/’41. Scripting PRIDE OF THE YANKEES/’42 back in a happier decade helped get him this assignment at a career low point, along with some string pulling by kid brother Joe Mankiewicz, top dog at 20th/Fox at the time. Between all the drinking, Mank must have worked at just about every major Hollywood studio, and pissed off every exec in town. Yet, somehow producing the best Paramount Marx Bros. pics; some classic play adaptations @ M-G-M and literally scores of uncredited rewrite ‘saves.’ But he may have been most famous, even beloved, for his self-destructive behavior & bon mots. Everyone had a favorite, usually the one about America’s pulse being wired directly to the ass of Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, told directly to Cohn at a screening. But surely the best came out after a supper party faux pas where, in the middle of a fancy formal dinner, a tuxedoed Mank violently erupted between courses, vomiting all over the linen, tableware and ladies’ couture before sheepishly assuring his hostess not to worry, everything was alright because ‘the white wine came up with the fish.’

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