Partial filmography: Charles Durning

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  • Three Chris’s (2010)
    Kris Kringle
  • Naked Run (2006)
    Congressman Davenport
  • Detective (2005)
    Councilman Max Ernst
  • A Boyfriend for Christmas (2004)
    Santa Claus
  • Mr. St. Nick (2002)
    King Nicholas XX (Santa Claus)
  • The Judge (2001)
    Judge Harlan Radovich
  • State and Main (2000)
    Mayor George Bailey
  • Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)
    Santa Claus
  • Elmo Saves Christmas (1996)
    Santa Claus 

  • The Grass Harp (1995)
    Reverend Buster
  • The Last Supper (1995)
    Reverend Gerald Hutchens
  • It Nearly Wasn’t Christmas (1989)
    Santa

    Santa (Durning) and Philpot (Vilanch)

  • Unholy Matrimony (1988)
    Reverend Samuel Corey
  • The Rosary Murders (1987)
    Father Ted Nabors
  • Kenny Rogers as the Gambler, Part III: The Legend Continues (1987)
    Senator Henry Colton
  • Mass Appeal (1984)
    Monsignor Thomas Burke
  • The Final Countdown (1980)
    Senator Samuel Chapman

Josephine and Bells

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Josephine and Men [Roy Boulting, 1955]

Who is that dancer with the orange hair? Is that the Italian girl who flees Peter Finch's garret early in the film? I really don't know what she's doing here.

Looking for escapism in post-austerity Britain? Emblazoned on the screen in all the colors of the rainbow, especially oranges and browns, Josephine and Men is a comprehensively innocuous comedy with very few laughs or attempts at laughs. Almost every joke in the first 85 minutes* is either a sight gag or something that depends on a musical cue. Neither the risqué romp suggested by the credits nor the social commentary suggested by the opening shot of Uncle Charles’s hangout, the “Parasites’ Club”, it’s the kind of romcom where the characters don’t step outside their archetype from beginning to end.

Wales’s glamour girl next door, Glynis Johns, has top billing as the titular protagonist, but it’s just as much of a vehicle for crypto-Scottish stage director/ actor/ producer/ boulevardier Jack Buchanan, who had recently been introduced to America at age 61 as the pretentious director in The Band Wagon. As Jo’s Uncle Charles he provides the narration and the framing device [like in the short story], and he engineers the happy ending through sage advice and Jeeves-style psychological machinations. Wikipedia describes Buchanan’s persona as “raffish eternal bachelor” and “debonair man-about-town”. During the movie I wrote down “cynical man of the world” and “elegant drunk”. He conveys this perfectly without interacting with a single woman except an elderly barmaid and his niece, who alternates calling him “Uncle Charles” and “darling”. His eyebrow work is tremendous.

Uncle Charles: "There is one principle I have followed all my life. In all crises, do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Follow that principle, and you will invariably find it will all come wrong in the end."

The Boulting brothers John and Roy had made several successful dramas and were moving toward satirical comedy by 1955, but this film is the merest trifle, despite being [unlike almost all their movies] in color. Nigel Balchin was a popular novelist and wrote respected thrillers and dramas including The Small Back Room. I think Jo&Men is his only comedy, based on part of this short story collection. It seems like Manchin created some inherently amusing/awkward situations and relied on the actors to do something funny with timing. However, the actors act like they’re in an Oscar Wilde play, as if the lines are full of sparkling repartee and just need to be pronounced properly to work. The only person mugging for laughs is Tonie MacMillan as the housekeeper who gets incredibly annoyed by the cops hanging around. Buchanan makes wry reaction faces, but he talks in such a dry way that you don’t realize he’s the only one with any funny lines. Even the scene where he barks at an imaginary dog falls flat, although I’m sure it was a scream in 1955 Britain which had known his persona for 20 years.

I’ve seen the young Glynis Johns before, but in more Princess Buttercup-type roles, like The Court Jester and Disney’s Rob Roy. Her voice is extra-breathy here, she looks vacantly pretty most of the time, and the resemblance to a Marilyn Monroe character is confirmed by her hairdo. The superficial dumblondery is deceptive, since the story is a commentary on the sort of woman who approaches everything, including romance, in the spirit of charity. Uncle Charles calls her a “one-woman Salvation Army”. As her suitors fall into disrepute and penury, her ardor increases. As her husband climbs the lucrative ladder of playwrighting, she becomes bored and dutiful, convincing him that he depends on her for every routine comfort.  Although this Mrs. Jellyby of the boudoir could be a target for satire from the people who made I’m All Right Jack and Lucky Jim, this movie is about as satirical as A League of Their Own. It’s about escapism and minor foibles.

As love interests, we have a 38-year-old but still obscure Peter Finch, and Donald Sinden, whose performance here does not suggest that he would become Sir Donald Sinden, one of British theater’s major figures and a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for four decades. I can definitely imagine him as a snooty antiques dealer and a snooty butler in two long-running and critically derided sitcoms, as he was from 1975 to 1991. Here he’s the proper and upright stick-in-the-mud to whom Josephine inevitably breaks off her engagement so she can get with Peter Finch’s bohemian playwright. Sinden is given nothing to do, but he doesn’t try to do anything. This guy was “head boy and football captain”? This guy became a captain of industry within the five years or so that he and Josephine were out of touch? He appears to be a timid twit in a pencil moustache. I know it was acceptable for a badass to have a pencil moustache at that time, but this man very much falls short of that ideal.

Finch is good as the irritable writer who does not change in any way when he goes from starving in a garret to success. He and the twit went to the same good school, and although people ask him doubtfully whether he has a tap in his flat [a huge studio with massive windows], they’re also surprised that he doesn’t own a top hat. The cast of weird characters in his apartment building is amusing [I liked the man in the bright yellow sweater frying a fish], though Jo&Men is missing the sort of in-depth dissection of the bohemian milieu you can find in A Bucket of Blood.

"Ah, a sharp fragment of toast in the back."

This writer character is close to being a chauvinist worthy of lampooning – from the first time we see him shouting at a mysterious signorina, to his settled cottage life of being vaguely jealous of his wife and letting his tea go cold so he can complain about it. But he’s not treated any more critically than the other characters. This film’s generous spirit and sprightly soundtrack makes it acceptable for turning your brain off and being cheered up.

*Around the 85-minute mark Finch’s character gets smashed and has a blathering heart-to-heart with Uncle Charles. The drunk acting is really unconvincing and stagy, but this scene is hilarious.

The Bells Go Down [Basil Dearden, 1943]

– This one’s a cert! It’s as safe as houses.
– Well, they ain’t so safe these days.

What with the sheer excitement of being the first person in Internet history to write about Josephine and Men, this piece has grown too long to address any other, better Boulting Brothers films [Heavens Above! and I’m All Right Jack, recently shown as part of Peter Sellers month].

James Mason as Ted

Also on TCM late last year was a comedy about death and war, specifically the Blitz, made before V-E Day, which deserves notice for being more enjoyable and light-hearted than Jo&MenThe Bells Go Down is two things — an adaptation of Stephen Black’s popular, temporarily anonymous memoir of his time in the Auxiliary Fire Service, and a vehicle for rubber-faced, ever-smiling comedian Tommy Trinder. As both it does quite well.

From the British Film Institute’s assessment:

The Bells Go Down was among the last of Ealing‘s wartime films to take the conflict as its subject – by 1943, the war was already on the turn, and the Blitz could be remembered with a tinge of pride, as an early challenge that was seen through with courage and fortitude. So the tone of the film, even though it allows for tragedy, is largely celebratory: a testament to the bravery and endurance of volunteer firefighters in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS).

The AFS are portrayed as the ragtag conscripts [volunteers fleeing boredom, or the law, or romantic woe] to the London Fire Brigade’s professional pyro-troops. The rivalry between the two seems like it’ll be an underlying dynamic, but fades away.

– Your old man told us you needed men in the Fire Brigade.
– We’ve got men in the Fire Brigade — but they seem to be taking almost anything in the AFS.

The ensemble cast works well together.  We have Trinder as the fearless, carefree, lovable leering doofus Tommy Turk, Phillip Friend as the generic guy named Bob, Mervyn Johns [father of Glynis] as a small-time smuggler, and James Mason as Ted, the stoic, sincere and surprisingly hard-to-like LFB officer who’s tasked with whipping these misfits into shape.  We see a lot of Ted’s parents and Tommy’s mum, and there are two strong, strong-jawed women: Meriel Forbes as Sue, who tempts Mason’s character Ted into learning to dance, and Philippa Hiatt as Nan, Bob’s generic fiancee. The film is punctuated by a vicar putting up banns … then throwing them away … then being confused at the sight of the couple back together again – with more emphasis on duty/loyalty to family and friends than to Britain.  And the war disrupts the expected structures of family life more than it disrupts anything else…until the final climax of the Blitz, when blocks of homes are sacrificed so the firemen can save warehouses.  Providing wartime cynicism and ennui is a Spanish Civil War vet named Brooks, a very underwritten character who should have been the narrator.

Two interesting elements of this film are the slices of London life [pubs, docks, switchboards, Ma Turk’s fish and chips shop], and the fire scenes.  As far as realism and emotional honesty, The Bells Go Down was overshadowed at the time by Humphrey Jennings’s quasi-documentary Fires Were Started.  But this film probably puts more effort into staging exciting fires.  Backdrops, staged fires, and real footage of conflagrations are interwoven to produce some quite tense and up-close situations. Around Minute 36 there’s a startling shot looking up a 50-foot-high ladder, and scenes like the search for the delayed-action incendiary Brooks recognizes from Madrid are captivating.  It’s a bit mawkish how all this is combined with Tommy Trinder’s vaudeville antics, but he doesn’t seem at all cynical or superficial in his enthusiasm.

[Tommy starts picking up all the phones in the control room and making quips à la Groucho Marx]
Switchboard Sue
: You can’t do that!
Tommy: Most people can’t, but I can.  I’m different.
Switchboard Sue: You’ll get me in trouble!
Tommy [huge knowing grin]: Will I?

After a year of romantic strife, family worries, ethnic stereotypes [the Italian guy is ridiculous, but I liked Lou Freeman the Jewish furniture dealer], training under a stern Scots taskmaster, and routine fires of increasing severity, London has gotten a bit overconfident about the extent of the Jerries’ advances — and the time has come for tragedy and sacrifice.  It seems like the Blitz is over after two days, which is either rose-colored hindsight or a desire to not remind the audience of what they’d all experienced. But still, the characters know survival will be a challenge. It’s pretty presumptuous to criticize a movie like this for being manipulative. I laughed, I was saddened by the devastation, I was swept along by the action.

And upper middle-class Nan and Bob show their appreciation of the working-class men they now know well from the fire brigade, by christening their son … not “Thomas” … but — shocking the vicar … “Tommy”.

Click here to see Mick McCarthy emulate Trinder’s smirk.

Update: A presumably-legal download site seems to have made Josephine and Men available as a series of .rar files, for some reason. And more importantly, included some probably-randomly-generated screencaps that I have now borrowed for this post.

Six utterances from the woman in a nearby Panera booth who looked like a younger Trish Suhr

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To her friend:

  • Beauty shop – what’s a beauty shop?  Is it a salon?
  • Leggings are just thick tights.  Whereas jeggings are pant material, with pockets.  I figure if it has pockets, it’s fine.
  • He was like “32 times?  You drove to CVS 32 times?”  And it was like two blocks away.
  • Where are what?  The tickets?  Oh, we don’t print tickets.  We just take reservations.
  • I’m sure there was a free watch somewhere along the line that made up for having to buy all that tissue paper.

Staring at her phone alone, while her friend was in the bathroom:

  • Oh. My. God they got another dog.

Advice for those about to watch “Marathon Man”

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  • Marathon Man [John Schlesinger, 1976] is not an expanded edition of The Running Man.
  • Marathon Man is not the same thing as Miracle Mile. Even though both of them get a rating of 83.7% from my film-assessment calculator [by which I mean my head].
  • If you’ve avoided those pitfalls, your impression of Marathon Man is probably close to reality. It’s somewhere between The Parallax View and Ludlum-style international intrigue, set in the New York of Three Days of the Condor and Dog Day Afternoon. Unlike Parallax and Dog Day, it is not going to nobly shy away from escapism. The twists and turns will be comprehensible, and you know from the posters that there will be a conclusion and it will be at least somewhat conclusive.
  • If you want to see American cinema’s funniest bumper-to-bumper city-streets car chase, watch Marathon Man.  I am not joking. It’s one of the first scenes in the film. An invective-laden slapstick dispute between two senior citizens. Then s-word gets real.
  • Dustin Hoffman’s character is supposed to be called “Babe”. He was “Babe” throughout the novel, but he’s usually Tom Levy or Thomas Babington Levy in the film. If you hear the name “Babe”, that’s him.
  • Dustin Hoffman’s brother is supposed to be called “Doc”. When he’s writing a letter to “Doc”, this is to his brother, not to his professor / thesis adviser. Maybe I’m unusual in how much this confused me.
  • Laurence Olivier is fantastic and believably ruthless, embodying a lifetime of waiting, as Dr. Szell. You may be shocked at how smart his character is, and how irrational Dustin Hoffman’s character becomes. This makes Hoffman seem like an Action Hero. As opposed to Warren Beatty in The Parallax View, whose single-minded ambition to make sense of the world is the height of folly.
  • William Devane is an actor I had mostly heard of in a derisive way, like Robert Urich or William Bendix. Devane’s big open face and big fluffy hair are perfect for his character here. Agree? [Y/N]

I think this shot of Devane is from "Marathon Man".

  • Keep an eye on the characters’ watches. I don’t know if they mean anything, but the camera often seems interested in them.
  • If you’ve recently seen The Parallax View, wait 12 months before watching Marathon Man. The reason is the soundtrack. Michael Small’s score for The Parallax View is a masterpiece of icy repetitivism. Tension is constantly built up and then resolved at points that don’t really correspond to the film’s events, compounding the viewer’s feeling that nothing is to be trusted. Small did the score for Marathon Man a couple years later, and it seems like a pale shadow of Parallax‘s. At a few moments of maximum sinisterness, set against brutalist architecture, there’s a motif, basically “Dr. Szell’s Unease Theme”, which starts out exactly like the most prominent melody from Parallax View, but lacks the resolution. The score isn’t bad, but it’s like comparing Match Point to Crimes and Misdemeanors. Don’t follow up the greater with the lesser.


Finally, a note on Dog Day Afternoon [Sidney Lumet, 1975].

[Spoiler alert]

I can’t think of another work that sends such an effective anti-authoritarian message while avoiding any particular political point. Sonny Wortzik is clearly a bozo, and he doesn’t even seem to like anyone, but he isn’t trying to be ruthless. He doesn’t want his family to suffer, but it’s not clear how he thinks he’s avoiding that. His co-robber Sal [John Cazale] is obviously unreliable as a result of low self-esteem and confusion, but Sonny does everything he can to keep Sal in line.

He’s sick of spending his days doing work he isn’t good at, but he doesn’t know what he is good at. Like Howard Beale, he’s fed up with a life of repression, but he can’t create anything to replace it with. The plan he came up with seemed literally foolproof, and yet the things that go wrong are not exactly unforeseeable. He gets into a desperate situation where pride might make him think he has nothing to lose, but he never gets to that point. He exploits the situation in order to have a sense of pride, not to have actual power over others. His hostages look at him and hope he’ll call the whole thing off and go home. He represents the man who will never get far in life, but is that his fault? He’s not crazy, he doesn’t have bad intentions, he’s a loser. Why is it that the only possibility he sees for happiness is something that wouldn’t even make sense to him if you explained it to him? How many people are in that position?

Meanwhile the police are clearly in the right, but they seem lazy in their approach to a mostly-routine situation. The fact that it is routine means that Detective Moretti has a plan in mind and doesn’t get too emotional, doesn’t take things personally. Sonny has no problem with that, his dearest wish is to Make a Deal of some sort, but the hostages start to resent at the lack of urgency. What do they want Det. Moretti to do, pretend to panic? Maybe he should, but that’s not his job.

More importantly, the cops hold all the cards in the long run, but they’re so clumsy about it. They would break a butterfly on the wheel. They don’t take any risks, and Sonny is risking his life for no reason at all, so can’t they help him out? The look of disappointment on Penelope Allen’s head bank teller, when it turns out the cops were lying even more than we assumed they were, is just devastating. The cops saved her life with a careful series of relatively ethical contrivances, and she’ll never trust them again.

And yet it’s not clear what the authorities could do. They can’t wait until the end of time for this situation to resolve itself. They inherently have a certain level of responsibility to deal fairly with their antagonists. Once his ridiculousness surpasses that threshold, they have to get ruthless and have no limits on their power. I was shaken at the end. My thoughts ran like this…don’t trust a government, trust the people you think you can trust. Look around at the people you see at work every day. Would it be that bad to get stuck in a small building with them for 24 hours? What are you afraid of?

Sylvia (Penelope Allen) and Sonny (Al Pacino). She's not mad at him. She's mad at them.

William Devane also played John F. Kennedy in 1974's The Missiles Of October. As we know, politics is show business for ugly people. Here we can see what Rod Blagojevich was going for.

Baseball Movies: Kill the Umpire

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What’s the worst baseball movie starring William Bendix?  The Babe Ruth Story, as any fule kno.  But what’s the best baseball movie starring William Bendix?  Now we have an answer.

Kill the Umpire [Lloyd Bacon, 1950] is like an extended sitcom episode.  Bendix’s Life of Riley isn’t one of the canonical sitcoms, but his protagonist Chester Riley was the first in a line of inept blue-collar fathers on TV sitcoms.  Yes, he may look and sound sort of like Al Bundy [here’s a a sample from Life of Riley], but I think personality-wise, Bendix’s Bill Johnson in Kill the Umpire is closer to the guy from The King of Queens than he is to Homer Simpson, Fred Flintstone, or the other schmoes mentioned by Wikipedia.  He’s not lazy, but he’s easily distracted.  He’s impulsive, but completely non-threatening.  He doesn’t come up with complicated schemes, but he does improvise half-assed schemes to cover up his dumb decisions.

At this point in his late-blooming career Bendix had been the star of The Life of Riley on radio and in its 1949 film adaptation, but for contractual reasons had been replaced by Jackie Gleason in the new TV Riley.  The sitcom nature of his family here is accentuated by 27-year-old Gloria Henry [soon to be Dennis the Menace’s mom] as his teen daughter, and 17-year-old Connie Marshall [Dragonwyck, Daisy Kenyon, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House] as his preteen daughter.  His idyllic life is made possible by post-war full employment — whenever he loses a job because he skips out to watch the ball game, he can find another one immediately [albeit this may only happen during spring training, the highlight of his life in St. Petersburg, FL].  As Jim McLennan at AZ Snakepit points out, this evokes the world of 1950 in which, just like in 1901, the westernmost [and southernmost] team in the majors is in St. Louis, and the southernmost team on the East Coast is in Washington.  To me it’s bizarre to think fans of the Texas League [“Texas Interstate League” in Kill the Umpire] would take their baseball more seriously than any major-league fans, but in 1950 Texas simply wasn’t AL or NL territory.  Likewise, the excitement of spring training in the era of the Marlins, Rays and D-backs is not what it was when February and March were Bill Johnson’s only chance to see big leaguers.

“Tryin’ to make an umpire out of me…that’s the lowest thing that can happen to a man.”

Bill Johnson is a generally humble guy whose one obsession in middle age is the game he used to play. Now he participates in baseball as the annoying loudmouth disputing every call.  He does this out of almost ideological fury, making startling claims about the inferior nature of umpires — beliefs he seems to share with other players and ex-players.  But at his family’s darkest hour, in his deepest moment of shame, he’s willing to give umpiring a try, as a job he might not get fired from.  At umpire school [was there such a thing?  is there now?] the pupils live in dorms, spend their days doing drills [making the “safe”/”out” and “ball”/strike” gestures], and get to know their equipment, including the AL/NL differences between chest protector standards.  Like so many other sitcom sequences, the resemblance to boot camp is clear.  He eventually realizes that umpires have a use, during a kids’ sandlot game that features a lovely shot of baseball in the foreground and a train in the background.

Before they graduate, they have the umpiring equivalent of the Indianapolis scouting combine, in which each recruit officiates part of an exhibition game in front of “our distinguished visitors, George Welsh of the American League and William Rogers of the National League”.  Bendix finally decides to take some of his pal’s performance-enhancing eyedrops, with the inevitable result that he starts seeing double at exactly the moment he starts umping.  In defiance of all we know about the human mind, this doesn’t affect his accuracy, but leads him to make every call twice [“Safe!  Safe!”] as if he were an agent of Breach overseeing two contemporaneous games occupying distinct metaphysical planes in the same geographic area.  The newly nicknamed Bill “Two Call” Johnson wows the scouts with his flair, and gets signed to a minor-league deal.

He and his pal are thrown into the pressure cooker that is the Texas Interstate League pennant race, featuring teams like the Texas Gophers, the Oil City Longhorns, the Buccaneers, the Stetsons, and the Cotton Pickers.  A controversy erupts and the whole family takes refuge in a hotel overlooking a lawless town square reminiscent of Touch of Evil.  Hijinks erupt and the movie ends with an even more outlandish car chase than the one that ends Alibi Ike.  Veteran director Lloyd Bacon [42nd Street, Here Comes the Navy, Knute Rockne All-American] got a lot of help from Frank Tashlin on that chase and other madcap visual comedy [the massive bouncy chest protector, the weird scene where Bendix gets a ride from an Indian chief].  Tashlin was an master animator who went on to make a bunch of comedies starring Bob Hope, Bob Cummings, and especially Jerry Lewis.  Kill the Umpire has surprisingly quick comic timing for which I presume he can be credited.

"Hey, I hope you don't mind me stepping all over that nice clean plate with my dirty old shoesies."

Does it begin with newspaper headlines about spring training? Is the structure of a classic baseball movie really as formulaic as I think it is?  We shall see.  Unlike the first two films in our series, this one does not begin with newspaper headlines about spring training.  It begins with the words “St. Petersburg Herald” printed on a paperboy’s newspaper sack, as he throws the paper to the protagonist, during spring training.  Also, the classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” over the credits is eschewed in favor of “Three Blind Mice”.

What are ballplayers like? We hardly spend any time with players in Kill the Umpire, and there’s not much game footage.  There’s no cameos from big leaguers.  Bendix has a pitcher for a future son-in-law [an incredibly bland guy named Bob], and he has nonviolent exchanges of views with a couple catchers [one played by Alan Hale Jr.] who fit into the “likeable lug” category.

What are managers like? Gruff.

What are umpires like? Here we get into this movie’s unique point of view.  We don’t get to know very many umpires, but we see what motivates them.  It seems like it was a more logical choice for ex-pro players in 1950 than it is now — the increased money in today’s sport, in addition to making ex-pros wealthier, means there’s a lot more coaching jobs for those who want to keep working in baseball.

One of the sitcom aspects of Kill the Umpire is that everyone is a bit character except Bendix, his family, his pal [roommate from the umpire school], and his boss [the proprietor of the umpire school].  His father-in-law is a retired umpire and he’s the most helpful, staid, reasonable father-in-law you could ever want.  Jimmy O’Brien, majordomo of O’Brien’s Umpire School, is the picture of a crusty old gym coach.  And Bendix’s pal is the surprisingly non-wacky Roscoe Snooker, played by Tom D’Andrea.  Roscoe’s background is unclear, but he tries his best to enhance his physical form for optimum umpirical efficacity.  D’Andrea maintains Gary Cooper-like poise while saying ridiculous things, and his rapport with Bendix went beyond this film into a co-starring role as Life of Riley‘s scheming neighbor.

– This is Pligromatic – it relaxes the eye muscles.  This is Lensomatic – I use this when I’m out on the field.  It strengthens the eye muscles.  Use two drops in each eye.  Would you hand me my pills?
– Which ones?
– The Vitamin B1 and thiamin pills.  They build up my white corpuscles.
– What about your red corpuscles?
– Oh, those I build up in the morning before breakfast.
– I see — white at night, red in the morning.
– For one week, then I switch over.  Red at night, and white in the morning.
– That makes a lot of sense.
– Makes a lot of corpuscles, too.

Riley (Bendix) and Gillis (D'Andrea) mired in mild mischievous mayhem

Is William Frawley involved? Why yes, he’s Jimmy O’Brien!  The umpire-school sequence is eerily reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to clown college. Frawley fulfils the role of Krusty, telling everyone what to do and getting exasperated by Bendix’s tomfoolery in a rapid-fire series of one-joke scenes.  And he’s especially exasperated because Bendix’s anti-umpiric prejudice means he’s trying to get kicked out.

By this point Frawley was a major investor in the PCL’s Hollywood Stars.  Although this film might have been a good opportunity to film at the Stars’ Gilmore Field, with its mere 11,000 seats suitable to stand in for the Texas Interstate League, this is yet another movie which employed L.A.’s Wrigley Field [capacity 22,000].  By now the brick outfield wall seen in Alibi Ike is covered with ads [Wildroot Cream Oil, Evans Automatic Lighters, Rayve, Auto-Lite, Ford, Chesterfields, “See Sun Valley”, and the tantalizing “Give her a cedar chest”], which are the same no matter what Texas town we’re in.

Is there an unnecessary subplot in which gamblers try to get our hero to fix games? Yes, just like in Alibi Ike and Death on the Diamond, there is an unnecessary subplot in which gamblers try to get our hero to fix games.  I think by 1950 it was pretty implausible that this would be a pervasive threat in the major leagues, but it still makes sense in the Texas Interstate League.  Head gambler Panhandle Jones is played by Jeff York, who would gain about 60 pounds over the next five years and portray Mike Fink, King of the River.

Climactic game? Yes, but we don’t care who wins.  All we want is for Two-Call Johnson to be redeemed in the eyes of the lynch mob.

Will it wow me, the modern viewer, with its documentation of a bygone age, and if so, how? In addition to being an early glimpse of the sitcom family, Kill the Umpire‘s coverage of baseball obsession in Florida and Texas before expansion is interesting, as are the details of umpires’ equipment.  And it’s a reminder that Lee Elia’s famous discourse on the attendees at Cubs games could have applied to any team for the majority of baseball history, when the typical game was played during 9-to-5 working hours and the addict risked economic disaster by feeding his habit.

There are no major league teams involved [the spring training games are between a “St. Louis” and a “New York” with a hideous non-interlocking NY on their caps], so instead of getting a look at authentic uniforms, we get a look at fictional uniforms, in particular the “Stetsons”.

Rating? Three Bendices out of four.

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