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Kid From Cleveland, The (Blu-ray Review)

14 Dec, 2015 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not Rated.
Stars George Brent, Russ Tamblyn, Lynn Bari.

Without even checking IMDb.com, it’s a reasonable bet that The Kid From Cleveland (now there’s a box office magnet of a title) is the only the movie you’ll find on the filmographies of both George Brent and Satchel Paige — though their lack of time here in the same frame means we can’t really compare their acting disciplines. Republic Pictures released the picture in the early fall of 1949, not quite a year after all but senior citizen Satch helped his Cleveland Indians teammates take the ’48 World Series from the Boston Braves. Little would anyone know that this would be the Indians’ last Series title to date, though, yes, there was a Fall Classic debacle just a few years later in 1954 when the Giants swept them 4-0, starting with the famous Willie Mays catch off the bat of Vic Wertz that forever traumatized my best friend Tom even before universally loathed Kuenn-for-Colavito trade.

Tom grew up in Akron, which means he got local TV out of Cleveland — and he informs me that Kid aired all the time, beginning when the Republic package was among the first of any real heft (relatively speaking, of course) to be sold to TV. Beginning at age 8, I grew up in Columbus and thus left the Cleveland TV market for the capital city’s — where we gravitated a little more, but not exclusively so, toward the Cincinnati Reds. Even so, Kid showed a lot on the Columbus CBS affiliate where I later worked for more than five years, so it’s not a stretch to say that if you were an Ohio youngster who loved both movies and baseball (and I’ve known a ton who do), the movie was part of your life until maybe the early ’60s when sexier titles began playing on television as a matter of course.

In addition to giving speaking parts to (among several others) Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau, Hank Greenburg, Tris Speaker and maverick Indians owner Bill Veeck, the picture marked the feature debut of Russ Tamblyn in that brief early period when he was billed as Rusty — five years before he was one of the bros in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and a dozen years before he was “Riff” in the movie of West Side Story — it the most celebrated of his “delinquent” pics that also included High School Confidential! In Kid, Tamblyn is well on the way to becoming a j.d., but when sportswriter Brent and the entire Indians gang take him under their wing, he’s less tempted to hang out with the “wrong crowd” and to give his stepfather a barrage of sass. With the Cleveland Browns only beginning to be what they would become and Alan Freed not yet spinning “race” records on Cleveland radio, Bob Feller adulation was probably the best recipe around to keep a young preliminary offender from becoming a Lake Erie hood.

Speaking of hoods — and unlike the other players in Kid who are cast more traditionally cast as themselves — infielder Johnny Beradino plays one here in an early launch of what turned out to be a long acting career. Beradino was like onetime MLB player Chuck Connors in that he eventually became more renowned for his second career (though he had managed a pair of strong RBI seasons for the St. Louis Browns just before World War II). Eventually, he became a mainstay on TV’s “General Hospital,” but here he’s cast as the kind of influence who hangs out at the kind of juke-joint that just might launch Tamblyn into a world of petty thievery, fast women and, if he drinks too many of those beers that were Cleveland-brewed in those days, blindness. (My Uncle Howard used to say that they should have run all Cleveland beers back through the horse.)

Director Herbert Klein did a lot of documentary work, and the extensive Cleveland location footage is one of the two things that make the movie more bearable than comparably vintage baseball pics (though there’s probably a ceiling on how many will regard this as a recommendation). The other is the amount of field footage that’s in the film — both newsreels from the ’48 Series itself and freshly shot material from the following season’s spring training (or mock footage intended to pass as the real thing). A lot of players rate bits of various sizes, though I’m surprised that the flamboyant Veeck (so much so that Bill Murray wanted to play him on screen) wasn’t a better actor.

Olive’s print looks very good and certainly better than expected, given that Kid has probably never been anyone’s archival priority; I never thought I’d ever see a ’40s shot of Chief Wahoo in high-def. One wonders if the movie had problems reaching even its own demographic in theaters, given the fact that ’49 proved to be a disappointing season for the Indians, when they finished in third place and eight games out to the Yankees — and also to the hugely contending Red Sox, a race that sparked a David Halberstam book. Interestingly and uncommonly, the movie actually addresses the team’s faltering performance, which was probably unavoidable given a shooting schedule that was (per the AFI Catalog for the 1940s) in May and June for a September release date. Script rewrites must have been the order of the day (kind of like when Billy Wilder was shooting One, Two, Three as the Berlin Wall was going up). I’d like to read some of the in-house Republic memos when everyone was trying to juggle all this with a supporting cast of jocks who were simply trying to spout dialogue.

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