|It was Ike's favorite movie.|
Monday, August 1, 2016
Movie "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) a wonderful story
Did the Orioles have angels helping them for the 1969 and 1970 divisional playoff series? Those were the first two years of the divisional format in baseball. Just look at the kind of roster our Twins had. We were awe-inspiring in the regular season. Rod Carew sprayed hits all over the place. So how come we collapsed so hopelessly in the divisional playoffs? We were swept by the Orioles and Weaver both seasons. There seemed to be utter despair in the air as our Twins attempted to be competitive vs. the Orioles.
Perhaps the Orioles had "angels in the outfield." Weaver was the kind of blustery manager that celestial forces might try to straighten out. Yes, he was temperamental.
The movies both had Paul Douglas in a primary role. He played catcher in "It Happens Every Spring," a movie in which a professor uses a special substance to doctor the baseball and make it unhittable. Major league baseball did not cooperate with this movie - after all, it had to do with cheating. If only baseball's problems could stay this minor. I'll assert: "It Happens Every Spring" is a light escapist fantasy, period.
A constructive brand of Christianity
Along came the movie "Angels in the Outfield" which had no problem presenting Christian faith and prayer as an antidote to many of our kills. The original "War of the Worlds" movie came out in 1953 and was similarly unabashed. We ought to turn to Christian faith. After all the tragedy of WWII - death on an unspeakable scale - it seemed benign and appropriate to put forth the best of our Christian faith.
We live in a more diverse world today. Hollywood finds it untenable, generally speaking, to put out movies with such a theme today. Christianity on a broad scale seemed more innocent and innocuous in the 1950s. Today we have the so-called "evangelicals" who can seem insulated and bigoted. I'm not sure, frankly, who these "evangelicals" are. Is it just a convenient term for the media? I go to a church with "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" (ELCA). But we certainly don't fit the current perception of evangelicals.
1951's "Angels in the Outfield" stars Janet Leigh along with Paul Douglas. It's based on a story by Richard Conlin. A young female reporter blames the Pittsburgh Pirates' struggling on their Earl Weaver-like manager, "Guffy" McGovern. McGovern begins hearing the voice of an angel who promises to help the team if he changes his ways. I'm touched by the fact that this movie was "Ike" Eisenhower's favorite movie. No one saw more WWII tragedy than "Ike." I'm sure the movie's faith-based optimism was uplifting for him.
The voice of the angel belongs to James Whitmore. (Whitmore always promoted himself as doing the same job as Spencer Tracy only for a cheaper price!)
The angel speaks for the Heavenly Choir Nine, a celestial team of deceased ballplayers. Our Halsey Hall in Minnesota, the iconic voice through the '60s and '70s, would cite the "Celestial All-Stars" when noting the death of a beloved ballplayer.
The Pirates are rescued from their losing ways by the angel and his celestial mates. It's a "miracle." McGovern has his own obligation to meet, if he wishes such good fortune to continue: he must back off from his abrasive and foul-mouthed ways. Hollywood never presented profanities at that time, so the "swearing" comes across as gibberish. Don't we all miss the taboo on swearing sometimes?
Through the eyes of an orphan child
The Pirates climb into the pennant race! A charming young female orphan enters the picture. This eight-year-old claims she can see the angels helping out the Pirates. Bridget White is wholly emotionally invested in the Pirates. It was her prayer to the Archangel Gabriel that prompted the angel to visit "Guffy."
Oh, and now we have a newspaper writer enter the picture. This is Jennifer Paige, a "household hints" expert. Paige brings the little girl's claims to the whole public's attention, nationwide! A bad guy broadcaster named Fred Bayles gets woven into the plot. He's played by Keenan Wynn.
The climactic portion of the movie is where the Pirates take the field with the pennant at stake. I was so touched by how McGovern decided to put faith in an old, somewhat washed-up pitcher named Saul Hellman. McGovern has learned from the chief angel that Saul will be signed up soon for the celestial team (i.e. he'd die, of course). As all this develops we see the heroic threesome of McGovern, White and Paige develop a feeling of family. Surely they will live happily ever after.
Hellman hangs on to pitch a complete game and is carried off the field ceremoniously. McGovern looks up, addressing the chief angel, and says "You're gettin' a good man."
I was amused when the angel finally gets frustrated by the Keenan Wynn character and finally addresses him, pulling Wynn's cap down over his eyes in the process. "Why don't you just shut up." I can just see President Eisenhower smiling.
We see Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio interviewed about the angels during the movie. We see Bing Crosby who actually was part-owner of the Pirates (15 percent). We see Barbara Billingsly in her pre-TV fame days. The future June Cleaver plays a hat check girl at a steak house. Billingsly might have gained even greater fame in the movie "Airplane" as the woman who could translate "jive." ("Shit" meant "golly," remember?)
The baseball action shots in "Angels In the Outfield" are quite authentic, most filmed at the real Forbes Field. Baseball had no problem cooperating with this movie. We see the "Kiner's Korner" inner fence in left field. We see the very prominent Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning in the background.
Bruce Bennett plays Hellman. He never played baseball but he was in the 1926 Rose Bowl and won a silver medal in the shot put in the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Put faith in children, indeed
"Angels in the Outfield" is a wonderful story of love and forgiveness in the same vein as "Miracle on 34th Street." We are reminded that young children have more understanding of the spiritual side of life than adults. We have much to gain from listening to children. The characters grow from opening their minds and hearts to the insights of a young girl. Far better than contemplating more war.
McGovern wonders who the angels were in real life. He recites some names of old-timers as of 1951, who by today's standards are super old-timers, those curious guys wearing the baggy uniforms and using the skimpy gloves. We wonder how good those very old-timers were, if they could take the field with players of today. There's no way to know. They didn't have to compete with African-Americans.
Hall of Famer "Pie" Traynor appears in a cameo toward the end of the movie. We see a player wearing No. 4 hitting a home run, and this is none other than Ralph Kiner himself.
McGovern lives in an apartment with the number "316," probably no coincidence since John 3:16 is the most quoted Bible scripture.
Earl Weaver, RIP
Earl Weaver has gone to his reward. He's kin with the fictional "Guffy" McGovern. Earl earned his praise. We just wish the Twins could have humbled his Orioles a little. We needed those "angels."
In the '90s we saw a remake of "Angels in the Outfield" but it bore no resemblance to the original, to my disappointment. I won't say it was a bad movie. It had a political correctness angle that chafed at me a little. We see the heroic African-American character who takes kids under his wing, while a deadbeat motorcycle-riding Caucasian dad doesn't give a rip. Anyway, I cherish the original "Angels in the Outfield" as I'm sure many others do.
"Ike," you had good taste.