Posts Tagged ‘Baseball Movies’

The Ted Williams-Robert Ryan Movie They Missed

October 15, 2011

Ted Williams Sworn In To Military Service in World War II, plus insert of Ted as a ballplayer, lower left, and two profile inserts of actor Robert Ryan.

Could actor Robert Ryan have played the role of Ted Williams in a bioflick they never made? You betcha! And he would have brought a ton acting skill and athletic ability to the job as well. I don’t really know of Ryan’s athletic background, but that’s my take anyway, based upon what I’ve seen of his movements in westerns and action roles. The guy never looked clumsy as he moved.

I only wish I could have found some younger shots of Ryan that were right usable for this piece. He may look a little old here for the younger Williams, but he could have handled the role just fine in his earlier career.

Unfortunately, and this is really a wholly larger topic, Hollywood doesn’t always pay much attention to physical similarity and athleticism in their casting of baseball title roles. Here’s my short list of the worst baseball star castings in memory, with my least favorite listed at number one:

1. Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall in “Fear Strikes Out.” (1957).

2. Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” (1989).

3. Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander in “The Winning Team.” (1952).

4. William Bendix as Babe Ruth in “The Babe Ruth Story.” (1948).

5. Frank Lovejoy as Rogers Hornsby in “The Winning Team.” (1952).

6. John Goodman as Babe Ruth in “The Babe.” (1992).

7. Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees.” (1942).

8. Ray Milland as fictional pitcher Mike Kelly in “It Happens Every Spring.” (1949). I would have penalized Milland all the way to number one had he been playing a real character. His athletic ability was worse than Perkins’s schlepping, if possible, but this was a wonderful baseball comedy and Milland pulled it off pretty well in spite of himself.

My favorite actin/athletic combos were:

(1) Robert Redford as fictional character Roy Hobbs in “The Natural. (1983).

(2) Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb in “Cobb.” (1994).

(3) Kevin Costner as the fictional Crash Davis in “Bull Durham.” (1988).

(4) Charlie Sheen as the fictional Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in “Major Leagues.” (1989).

(5) Paul Douglas as the fictional Guffy McGovern in “Angels in The Outfield.” (1951).

(6) Robert DiNero as the fictional Bruce Pearson in “Bang The Drum Slowly.” (1973).

(7) Dennis Quaid as Jimmy Morris in “The Rookie.” (2002).

Maybe my off-the-cuff opinions here are fairly typical of baseball fans on one level. I think it’s easier for us to enjoy movie performances by actors in fictional roles. We have some very strong impressions of actual players and we may tend to expect actors to capture them dead on and, at least, look as though they’ve thrown a ball or swung a bat before.

The problem with “Field of Dreams” provides us with our most extreme Hollywood misstep, but thy still didn’t get it. New York actor Ray Liotta was cast in the role of the left-handed batting Shoeless Joe from South Carolina. Liotta is right-handed and can’t even fake a left-handed swing for the movie, so, Director Phil Robinson just allows him to hit right and talk like he’s from Brooklyn.

When he gets the uproar of objection from deep blue baseball fans who see the early release of the movie, how does director Robinson respond? He tells us that we need to remember that the movie is a work of fiction – and that these things happen when we producers make a film. By his silent shrug, he was implicitly saying that we should just accept little misses like this as we suspend our anchorage to reality for the sake of buying into the movie.

Hollywood people just sometimes fail to realize how literal we baseball people can be when it comes to the imagery of our biggest ancient stars.  We sort of like reality. I mean, I went to that movie prepared to accept the premise that dead Hall of Famers and deceased scorned superstars were capable of walking out of a corn field to play the game again. – I just expected them to be real when they got to the playing field.

Joe E. Brown’s Baseball Movie Trilogy

March 26, 2011

Alibi Ike (1935)

Many of you may not remember comedian Joe E. Brown. The guy worked America’s funny bone in movies a very long time ago now. In fact, he was 80 years old when he passed away in 1973, so you are duly forgiven, but still regretfully deprived if he played no part in your earlier cultural education about life in America and our special love for the game of baseball.

Known for his rubbery face, his very large mouth, and his long-winded, comically framed ability to hold a singly sung or shouted note,  Brown made a trio of movies during the 1930s that were all dedicated to one of the most overworked fiction themes in baseball novel and movie history.

These movies were “Fireman Save My Child” (1932), “Elmer the Great” (1933), and “Alibi Ike” (1935). All cast Joe E. Brown as the naive country bumpkin with incredible talent for baseball. “Fireman,” the first, is both the worst and hardest to come by as far as viewings are concerned. It may hit the screen at TCM (Turner Classic Movies) every now and then, but I’ve never seen it there. In fact, I haven’t seen it in years. “Elmer” and “Ike” are both easier to see and acquire through TCM or by DVD. Order them at TCM or through Amazon.

Famed sports writer Ring Lardner had a hand in writing the scripts for both “Elmer” and “Ike” and maybe that’s why each of these movies had Joe E. Brown coming up as the star that finally led the Cubs to pennant and World Series victories back in the 1930s. After all, Cubs fans of that era were starting to get a little fed up in 1933 with the fact that they had not won it all since 1908.

In each case, Joe’s baseball character falls into the beguiling hands of the slick city girl hustler who leads him astray – and into the deeper clutches of mobster-based gangsters who entrap or kidnap him as a result of gambling losses into missing “the big game” until he is able to fee himself and get back to the ballpark in time to save the day.

The ploys of each film run together for me now. I do recall that Lucille Ball’s character actor for Fred Mertz (William Frawley) plays Joe’s Cubs manager in “Alibi Ike,” while the great Olivia DeHavilland makes her screen debut in the same film as his home town girl. She would go on to take a supportive sctress Oscar four years later in “Gone With The Wind.”

In “Fireman,” Brown stars for the Cardinals; the other two films arrest him as a Cubs hero. In “Ike,” a climatic scene plays out through a night game at Wrigley Field.  It’s supposed to be Wrigley Field in Chicago, but the film was actually shot at the lighted Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The fact that Wrigley Field Chicago would not have lights until 1988 did not bother the continuity folks working the “Alibi Ike” script one little iota.

Whoever handled continuity for “Alibi Ike”  must also have had a kid who later handled the casting of right-handed New Yorker Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” Who’s going to notice the difference, or even care? Right?

"Are you ready to win another big pennant for the Cubs, Ike?"

“Ready to win another pennant for the Cubs, Ike?”

Joe E. Brown’s son, Joe Brown, later served a successful term as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, causing the elder Brown to cast his lot as a dedicated Bucs fan. In 1950, while the younger Brown was coming up as the GM for the Pittsburgh farm club Waco Pirates, the late Buddy Hancken served there too as the club’s field manager. According to Buddy, Joe E. Brown was so involved in his son’s movements there that he came to Waco for about a month and sat on the bench with the club in uniform to be a part of it all. This field access also provided the old showman with an opportunity to act out some of his own shadow-ball routines on the sidelines as the mood and inspiration struck.

One doesn’t have to be crazy to be a baseball fanatical, but it helps. It also helps if the fanatic possesses some entertaining talent. And Joe E. Brown had far more of the latter than he did of the former. Baseball misses his insanely talented dedication to the game.