' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Angels in the Outfield (1951)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: Angels in the Outfield (1951)

Oh, I've done it. Sure, I've done it. My beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers are in a crucial spot and I will, often without even realizing it, fold my hands. And even if I'm not technically saying a prayer, well, I'm still praying. Yes, yes, yes. For the love of......obviously. I've heard it before. God, they'll tell you, doesn't have time to care about sports. That painfully played out sentiment, however, seems to miss the idea - that those same people will often spout off to you - of prayer not so much as communication with God (whomever you think God to be) as a means of comfort. I don't expect God to answer in the middle of a Nebraska game when I pray. That's insanity! If He did, Terrence Nunn would have caught that ball. Nebraska games arouse emotional agony within me, and so I pray to assuage that agony, and in that assaugement, God or no God, I find a sense of......faith.

This lengthy wind-up then functions as a way to suggest the inherent danger in the premise of Clarence Brown's 1951's celestially-inclined baseball opus "Angels in the Outfield". Here's a film suggesting that if you do pray to God in regards to your favorite sports team that He might just assign a few angels as athletic emissaries to assist in the cause. Perhaps this is why it was, according to TCM, the favorite film of one President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Perhaps he sat in the Oval Office and conversed with charitable, if busy, attendants of God. Perhaps he imagined invisible angels - like the film - helping to manipulate the goings-on in the Sentate Chamber, helping to push through bills he supported. Do we have an interstate system because of angels?!

If you, like me, came of age in the 90's, chances are you remember the 1994 remake more than the original, even if you haven't seen either one. That "Angels in the Outfield", however, updated the baseball team in question from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the then California Angels (because subtlety) and made it so the audience could actually see the angels (because subtlety) and then turned those angels into comical plot devices. It also chose tell its story primarily from the viewpoint of a young foster child (a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who prays for his favorite father's team to win the pennant because he naively sees it as his one hope to be re-united with his pops.

The original focuses on the viewpoint of Pirates' manager Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas), whose team is almost as bad as it was in the Aughts. This immense awfulness causes him to be a mean old son of a bitch, sort of a Leo Durocher, a man whose own opinion on the Supreme Being boiled down to His watching over drunks and third basemen. Ol' Guffy seems about the same - until, that is, an angel (voiced by James Whitmore) from on high begins speaking to him, explaining that his spectacularly terrible team has been receiving an inordinate number of prayers to get better and now he's been ordered by You-Know-Who to aid the cause.

These prayers, it turns out, are being offered by a precocious orphan, Bridget (Donna Corcoran), who simply feels bad for the Pirates. And as it turns out she can actually see the angels on the field of play, which renders her as one heck of a story for burgeoning sportswriter Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh). That's a nifty little subplot in "Angels in the Outfield", the typically tempestuous relationship between coaches and sportswriters. Yet here the coach and sportswriter eventually becomes allies, and Jennifer helps Guffy to find inner peace as much as the fellas with harps and wings. Together they form the obligatory ersatz family with Bridget as she and Guffy bond over their similarly unbelievable experience.

That experience leads to an improbable if wonderful "Miracle on 34th St."-ish subplot in which Guffy is essentially put on trial before the commissioner of baseball (Lewis Stone) since he might be off his rocker and unfit for duty by claiming to be in contact with celestial beings. (I couldn't stop imagining the extravagant PR travesty that would unfold should Roger Goddell attempt to chair the same inquisition.) In the end, however, "Angels in the Outfield" is not particularly interested in making others believe in God's messengers.

In the climactic winner-takes-the-pennant contest, the angels leave the Pirates and Guffy on their own because Guffy has broken the rules established by his heaven-sent guardians when he momentarily returns to his rubish ways. This puts the onus on the Pirates themselves, and on the washed-up pitcher Saul (Bruce Bennett). Initially, he does well. Then, he struggles. The fans boo, even the assistant coach begs his manager to take him out, but Guffy sticks with him. He's found faith, within himself and in those surrounding him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK, I didn't even realize that that the 90s movie was somewhat loosely based off this original! I grew up with the 90s one and loved it. That's really interesting! I think I want to check this one out now just because it's the original. Great review, Nick!