Angels in the Outfield (DVD Review)18 Feb, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn, Lewis Stone, Spring Byington, Marvin Kaplan, Ellen Corby, Donna Corcoran, Bruce Bennett.
The recent passing of the dependably combustible onetime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver gives a little renewed pop to what, it has been said, was President Eisenhower’s favorite movie at the time of its release (which in September of 1951 was more than a year before Ike’s election to office). Of course, National League minds at that time were on the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants as they were chugging their way toward what became the folkloric Bobby Thomson playoff — and not much on Outfield’s Pittsburgh Pirates (who, in movie terms, were the diamond equivalent of maybe a lesser Monogram Western). In a role the AFI Catalog says was once envisioned for, the mind boggles, Clark Gable, Paul Douglas was superbly cast as Pirates manager “Guffy McGovern” — who, like Weaver, was, in umpire terms, “toss-prone.” In this yarn, (which, as I recall, previously got an Amazon.com exclusive but not much additional distribution in a previous home entertainment go-round), he is ultimately assisted by Heavenly intervention the Pirates needed both on and off the screen.
Later refashioned as an adequate 1994 kids pic for Disney, this earlier version has stronger casting that includes Janet Leigh as a new-to-the-beat sportswriter and Keenan Wynn as a mouthy Douglas antagonist who has his own media outlet, back before the term was used. The Catholic-orphanage subplot is probably to be expected in an MGM release that feels like a presumed holdover from the Louis B. Mayer era (’51 was the year Mayer was ousted in favor of the more socially conscious production head Dore Schary). But the Douglas-Wynn acidity keeps the movie from overdosing too extensively on “cutes,” while pairing Douglas and Leigh as a romantic couple keeps the imagination hopping. Better-than-expected cameos include show-ups by Joe DiMaggio, who was in his final season of playing; Ty Cobb (I wonder if he was able to take direction); and baseball-loving songwriter Harry Ruby, who’d been portrayed just a year earlier by Red Skelton in the studio’s musical biopic Three Little Words. Bing Crosby even shows up in this non-Paramount release — though he was probably easy to coerce given his partial real-life ownership of the Pirates at the time. In fact, it is because of Bing’s estate (and a non-alcoholic treasure eventually discovered in his wine cellar) that the famed game 7 of the 1960 World Series (Pirates-Yankees) exists — and exists on DVD. Obviously, there was Heavenly intervention there as well.