Sunday, April 17, 2016

And This Blog Loves Baseball Movies

Thinking about Jackie Robinson and watching the documentary about his life that aired on PBS last week brings to mind baseball movies, as well as the question of why Your Correspondent does not have a Blu-ray of Pride Of The Yankees.

There are a zillion baseball flicks, many of which this classic movie obsessed MLB geek has not seen, listed in detail on the Boston Baseball website. Today's post will not get into latter-day baseball movies, even some pretty darn good ones with a 20th century pedigree - although it's a good bet I will be watching the following films again before the MLB season ends.

Other writers, especially the late Roger Ebert, have covered this territory quite well. That said, what Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will get into, as usual, is curios, cartoons, comedies, short subjects and, as inevitably as death and taxes, trailers.

And, of course, commercials.

While the greatest film about the national pastime ever made, hands-down, is Baseball Bugs, just one among several devastatingly funny cartoons Isadore "Friz" Freleng and his crew at Warner Brothers produced that year, the very first baseball movie this writer ever saw was the following Fleischer Studios cartoon, The Twisker Pitcher. This confirms that Popeye The Sailor had a helluva screwball and would easily command 30+ million buckaroos a year in 2016!

Neither offering that wonderful gritty New York City factor seen to great advantage in 1930's Fleischer cartoons nor quite as hilarious as Baseball Bugs but still damn funny, is Tex Avery's twisted take on "play ball", Batty Baseball.

It's a good bet Tex saw Goofy in How To Play Baseball and concluded that he could top it.

When the topic of baseball comes up, the first person from the world of entertainment one thinks of is Buster Keaton.

Knowing Buster's love of the game, it seems rather amazing that Buster did not devote an entire feature film to baseball. Hollywood legend has it that the first question in a job interview with Buster Keaton Productions was "do you play baseball?" One imagines an incredible action-packed comedy feature co-starring Buster with his mentor Roscoe Arbuckle, Roscoe's ever-acrobatic and quadruple-jointed nephew, Al St. John, and the ever-menacing Big Joe Roberts as the umpire.

That said, this entry from Buster's mid-1930's series of Educational Pictures comedy shorts, One Run Elmer, threadbare budget notwithstanding, has its charms. It's impossible for Keaton to be anything but fascinating onscreen.

Another baseball loving movie comedian was Joe E. Brown.

Joe both worked as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees and starred in two immensely entertaining baseball comedies, Elmer The Great and Alibi Ike.

Another beloved comedian was Shemp Howard, who, between stints as one of The Three Stooges, may well have been the hardest working man in showbiz at Vitaphone. Here's the opening from Dizzy and Daffy, a Vitaphone 2-reeler intended to spotlight St. Louis Cardinal stars and "Gas House Gang" luminaries Jerome and Paul Dean. Although Shemp shares the film with both the MLB stars and stuttering comic Roscoe Ates (a funny guy but no Mel Blanc), he is a riot, as usual, as a nearsighted pitcher.

When it came to comedy, as a Stooge or a supporting player with the likes of W.C. Fields, Olsen & Johnson and Abbott & Costello, Shemp Howard unquestionably had The Right Stuff. Another superb comedian with The Right Stuff was Ernie Kovacs, who shall prepare yours truly for Giants vs. Dodgers later tonight and be our intimidating flame-throwing "closer" for today's post. Play Ball!

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