A jaunty baseball musical comedy with nifty tunes and the slimmest of plots, Busby Berkeley’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game is remembered now as the genesis of the great directing team of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
The Production: 3.5/5
A jaunty baseball musical comedy with nifty tunes and the slimmest of plots, Busby Berkeley’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game is remembered now as the genesis of the great directing team of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. They didn’t direct the film proper, but besides penning the story, the pair choreographed the show and directed all of the musical numbers with such surety that their eventual success as film directors seemed inevitable. Their next project: the masterful On the Town which they both choreographed and directed in its entirety.
Talented turn of the century baseball players Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) and Denny Ryan (Frank Sinatra) spend their off-season playing vaudeville to packed houses. Having won the previous season’s World Series for their Wolves team, they expect to repeat in the newest season, but the team is dashed by the news that it has a new owner K.C. Higgins (Esther Williams). She’s very knowledgeable about baseball, however, and the team’s mistrust is quickly thwarted. What’s more, girl-shy Denny flips for the new owner, but she’s not interested in him romantically. Eddie seems more to her liking though he fights his attraction to her for as long as he can. But more serious trouble is brewing for the Wolves: big time gambler Joe Lorgan (Edward Arnold) has a scheme to amass a fortune betting against the Wolves, and his sometimes girl friend Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett) complicates matters when she falls head over heels for Denny.
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s miniscule story has been expanded into a screenplay by Harry Tugend and George Wells. Luckily, the slim story has been stuffed to the gills with musical numbers (in addition to the title tune which not only gets a song and dance from Sinatra and Kelly but is also warbled by Esther Williams as she takes some graceful laps around the hotel swimming pool). Roger Edens has composed a clutch of carefree tunes with words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (it seems as if all of them were gearing up for On the Town since Kelly, Donen, Sinatra, and Garrett in addition to Edens, Comden, and Green would all be taking part in it).
Kelly and Sinatra get “O Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” (assisted by the third member of their triumvirate on the field Jules Munchin as Nat Goldberg, another who’d be a part of On the Town) and “Yes, Indeedy” as the pair relate their (fictional) success with the fairer sex. Individually, the stars all get their own chances to shine: Sinatra in a melting rendition of “The Right Girl for Me” as he declares his love for K.C., Kelly’s showoff Irish jig tap-fest in “The Hat My Father Wore on St. Patrick’s Day,” and Garrett’s love-starved voraciousness for Sinatra in “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate” (which memorably finds her slinging him over her shoulder). With director Busby Berkeley doing only yeoman work on the book scenes (a couple of montages that collate the team’s rise in the rankings and later their slide when they hit the skids are the most impressive non-musical moments), it’s up to Kelly and Donen to make the musical numbers sparkle, and that they do with a very mobile camera and some inventive set-ups (in the “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” number, Sinatra, Munchin, and Kelly come sliding headfirst toward the camera simulating a typical baseball move in a clever staging and shooting of the tune). They also keep action going on multiple levels in the two different stagings of “Strictly U.S.A.,” the film’s big production number but the least impressive of the Edens-Comden-Green tunes.
He may only receive third billing in the movie, but Gene Kelly gets much of the focus of the film as the skirt-chasing, extroverted song and dance shortstop, and he’s tops in all of his musical moments as well as showing a great amount of athletic grace and strength (watch him scale up to the second floor of a hotel from the outside without the least bit of strain). Esther Williams was third choice for K.C. Higgins (after Kathryn Grayson and Judy Garland were initially mentioned; oddly, both ladies are worked into the finale lyrics of “Strictly U.S.A.” perhaps as a tribute to what might have been), and while she gets only a brief moment in the pool to show her real talents, she doesn’t otherwise seem a felicitous match for Gene Kelly. Frank Sinatra once again plays an introverted girl-shy lad (repeating a similar persona when paired with Kelly in Anchors Aweigh), but while he’s probably the least convincing baseball player in cinema history, he handles all of his song and dance chores handily. Betty Garrett comes on strong as the man-eating Shirley, and Jules Munchin gets a few moments to mug and prance for the camera as Goldberg. Edward Arnold makes a believable hoodlum while Richard Lane and Tom Dugan work very well as team managers Michael Gilhuly and Slappy Burke.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. George J. Folsey’s Technicolor camerawork has never looked so glorious, and the sharpness of the image allows us to notice for the first time the silver piping on the candy-striped costumes Kelly and Sinatra wear in their opening number as well as the seams in the backdrop during “Strictly U.S.A.” Contrast is beautifully applied making for a pristine picture without any of the multi-colored dirt specks on the DVD. The movie has been divided into 38 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers strong fidelity piped through the center channel. The dialogue and song lyrics are as clear as can be and have been combined with the music and sound effects to make a most professional audio presentation. There are no problems with age-related artifacts like hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Outtake Musical Numbers: “Baby Doll” (2:42, HD) features Kelly singing and dancing rather unimpressively with Williams (in pink ballet slippers so she wouldn’t tower over him) to a tune by Harry Warren and “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” (4:14, HD) offers Sinatra crooning a lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein song to Garrett.
The Cat and the Mermouse (7:37, HD): 1949 Tom & Jerry cartoon
Theatrical Trailer (2:50, HD)
Song Selection Menu: instantly jump to twelve musical moments in the movie.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game offered a great training ground for many members of the MGM family who’d next be tackling a far more ambitious musical On the Town. On its own merits, Ball Game features a tuneful and appealing score and a handful of fine musical comedy performances buoyed by inventive staging and gorgeous Technicolor. Fans of the stars or the musical genre won’t want to miss it.
Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.