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On "Angels in the Outfield" + A Lament on Too Many Strikeouts In MLB Playoffs + More TCM Tips

This coming Monday October 17 at 930A EDT, the original "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) airs on the Turner movie channel TCM.  Rarely mentioned in the pantheon of baseball films, "Angels" has many fine performances starting with Paul Douglas as the profane manager of the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates who

is humanized by Janet Leigh, a manners reporter for a local newspaper.


Bruce Bennett - born Herman Brix, a silver medalist in the shotput at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, and briefly a movie Tarzan - plays a key supporting role as a gritty starting pitcher. Some of the film was shot on location at Forbes Field during Branch Rickey's first of five unsuccessful years trying to turn around the undermanned Pittsburgh franchise.


The film was originally entitled "Angels and The Pirates" but the producers decided it would be false advertising if overseas viewers thought they were getting a swashbuckling adventure movie.

Uncredited, James Whitmore plays the voice of the angel who does his part in taming Douglas's

explosive temper.


I won't spoil the film any more if you haven't seen it. I'm not saying you might find it too hokey and

corny. I must admit that Keenan Wynn's sportswriter is over-the-top and the orphaned Donna Corcoran might be a little too cute.


But I do want to mention that director Clarence Brown was a major Hollywood player, dating back to his role in guiding Greta Garbo to her first stardom.  You also don't want to miss cameo appearances by Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, and the baseball-obsessed songwriter Harry Ruby.  


Am interested in your opinions on the film.  So please post comments on the blog page.


While watching the endless parade of pitchers in the MLB playoff games, I thought a lot about Bruce Bennett's Saul Hellman, the starting pitcher in "Angels" who yearns to complete his games. In

today's baseball, it is a minor victory for baseball traditionalists when a starting pitcher goes into the 6th inning let alone completes it.


I'm not against new information on pitching and hitting, but there is definitely such a thing as Too Much

Information (TMI) and PBA (Paralysis By Analysis).  Maybe it is inevitable given the power arms that every team seemingly posseses these days, but I am saddened if not downright angered by the number of strikeouts that are accepted as the norm in today's game. 


I'm posting this blog with the Cleveland AL team (aka the Guardians, formerly Indians) having knotted the best-of-five series with the Yankees.  They could advance to the ALCS by the end of the weekend but they'll have to score more runs than usual.  


They do strike out the least of all the playoff teams and play good defense with solid pitching so they have a chance. They wil have to contain Aaron Judge who is ready to break out after striking out a lot in

Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS before the impatient if not downright boorish home Yankee fans.  


I am drawn by nature to underdog teams with the most hunger and the most to prove. Take a player like Phillies second baseman (once shortstop) Jean Segura, the position player who had appeared in the most MLB games without appearing in the post-season.  


The Phillies can dethrone the Braves later today but that is hardly a gimme.  Even if they lose today, I predict they won't go down easily in a game 5 at Atlanta.  


The Mariners hadn't been in a playoff since 2001 when winners of 116 games, Seattle bowed to the

Yankees in the ALCS.  They lost two close games in Houston and before a packed house at home today,

I think the can handle the battle-tested Astros.  I kinda doubt they can do it twice, but that's why they

play the games, to find out who's best.


I still want Houston's Dusty Baker to earn his first World Series win as a manager, but I don't want underdogs ever to be embarrassed. The Padres have a chance tonight to exorcise the dominance of their haughty big brothers of the North, the LA Dodgers.


Behind proud local boy Joe Musgrove, they may have the pitcher to lead the way. Whatever happens,

like the upstart Phillies, the Padres should make a winner-takes-all Game 5 very competitive. 


Before I close, here are a couple of more TCM tips for the next week or so.


Tues Oct 18 back-to-back early 1940s Hollywood anti-Nazi films.  

4p "The Mortal Storm" with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  My most vivid memory of this one is

watching CBS TV's "The Early Show" before dinner and Dan Dailey - years before he played Dizzy Dean

in the utterly forgettable "Pride of St. Louis" appears as a Nazi bookburner sitting afire Heinrich Heine.


6p "So Ends The Night" written by Erich Maria Remarque who shot to fame with the book

and later movie "All Quiet on the Western Front". The haunting Ms. Sullavan appears in this one, too.

This is Hollywood after all, but on my first viewing I thought two Gentiles, Sullavan and Glenn Ford, gave creditable performances as aspiring Jews escaping from eastern Europe. Also with Fredric March.


BTW I highly recommend Scott Eyman's, "Hank and Jim" (Simon and Schuster, 2017).  Subtitled

accurately "The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart."  Fonda was briefly married

to Sullavan and  Stewart held life-long affection for her (as seen in the original "Shop Around The Corner").  In an adversarial age like ours, their friendship despite political disagreements is good

to know about and learn from.


Tues Oct 20 630p documentary on film director Val Lewton

8p "Salt of the Earth" 1954, about an union organizing effort in Mexico directed by Herbert Biberman            

10p "A King in New York" Charlie Chaplin's 1957 return to the screen in USA


Fri Oct 21 930A "College Coach" (1933) In a rarity, pre-Noir Dick Powell morphs into fiery football coach

         6p "Knute Rockne" (1940) Pat O'Brien in title role, Ronald Reagan as the Gipper 


That's all for now - always remember:  Take it easy but take it, and especially these days:

Stay positive, test negative. 

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On Mike Piazza, "Angels in the Outfield", Gabriel Faure, and Shirley Knight & The Solace of Baseball, Movies, and Music In A Time of Unease

The enforced isolation of sheltering in space has allowed me to taste many dishes these days from the worlds of baseball and music and movies. Here's a rundown of some highlights and recommendations for the next week or so.


On Fri aft Apr 24, MLBTV replayed the Mets' thrilling 3-2 victory over the Braves on Sep 21, 2001, the first game in NYC after the 9/11 bombings.  I attended the game and thrilled to the Seventh Inning Stretch rendition of "New York, New York" with Liza Minnelli singing and leading a kick line with various members of the police and fire departments and other uniformed personnel. 

I was way up in right field that night so could see the show much better on TV today. Liza was really hyped up to put on a great show despite problems with the PA system.


She always reminded people that the song was written for her, not Frank Sinatra though his version is almost always played.  In fact, for many years the Yankees only played Liza's version of "New York, New York" when the team lost.  They have stopped that indignity but now don't ever play her rendition.


When you watch the "All Time Games" on MLBTV, you realize how every game has turning points and chances for redemption. Earlier in the game, Mike Piazza had been unable to catch a throw at home plate from right field, allowing hustling Chipper Jones to score the first run of the game from first base.  


In mid-game Piazza also stranded a runner at third with two out by grounding out to third.  But he rose to the occasion in the bottom of the 8th with a game-changing two-run home run off New York-born Steve Karsay.


There was no over-the-top celebration of the homer by either Piazza or his teammates.  They were happy, of course, but I sensed a feeling that it was a statement of affirmation after such a jarring blow to the city delivered by the suicide bombers.


Hearing "New York, New York" again and watching the happy ending, I was yet swept by the bittersweet feeling that it will be a long time before we can experience the joy of watching in capacity crowds.  Not forever - we can't think that way - but it will be a long time. And wisely so until the scientists and sensible public health officials get a better grip on the problem.

So let's take some solace in watching some old baseball movies. Mark down this Tuesday April 28 at 1p when TCM shows the original "Angels in the Outfield" from 1951. It is directed crisply by Clarence Brown (1890-1987), who holds the unenviable record of the most Oscar nominations without a win at six.  

"Angels" stars Paul Douglas as the crusty beleaguered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Janet Leigh plays a newspaper reporter specializing in society stories who tries to civilize him.  Keenan Wynn, 13 years before his memorable turn as Bat Guano in "Dr. Strangelove," plays a cynical sportswriter. 


The title comes from a little girl who roots so hard for the Pirates that she imagines angels in the outfield helping them. And whatdya know? They are real. The ever-cheery and bubbling Spring Byington plays a nun who helps facilitate the miracle. 

I can envision many hard-boiled sophisticated baseball fans running away from the TV before the film is even shown.  I say give it a try.  In my first seeing, I found it not as sentimental as it sounds.  


Even if not buying into the movie, fans can enjoy the baseball sequences filmed at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Look for cameo appearances by Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner wearing #4, and Bing Crosby, who owned a share of the Pirates at the time.  

Sam Narron plays a rival Philadelphia coach - Narron was one of eight Narrons from a baseball family in North Carolina that played professional baseball. 


Paul Douglas is one of my favorite actors.  He delivers athletic portrayals naturally because he briefly played pro football in the pre-NFL days and was a sports announcer for many years.  He had also been convincing as Ray Milland's catcher in the charming "It Happens Every Spring" released in 1949 ( that film was written by Valentine Davies who the year before had created "Miracle on 34th Street" with Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus and young Natalie Wood). 


On the musical front, if you tune into wqxr.org on line or 105.9 FM, this Sunday night Apr 26 at 10p, the piano music of Gabriel Faure (1845-1921) will be highlighted in David Dubal's absorbing "Reflections from the Piano" series. It is a repeat of the Wed at 10p show.


Faure's melodies always are inviting and many of his harmonies are haunting. Oddly, some of his gently dissonant notes somehow reminded me of the much later jazz great Thelonious Monk (1917-1982).  There will be a second Faure show on W Apr 29 at 10p, repeated on Su.


Remember, too, that during the daytime Th Apr 30 will be Eve Arden Day on TCM. Unfortunately, they are not showing "Anatomy of A Murder" in which she plays James Stewart's secretary.  It would have been timely since on April 29 Duke Ellington, who wrote the music for the film, would be 121.


They are showing films I've never seen - "Unfaithful" at 10a, "Comrade X" from the critical period of 1939-40 at 2p, and the classic "Mildred Pierce" at 345p. The last one at 6p is the so-so filming of her classic radio-TV "Our Miss Brooks". It does have the novelty feature of

direction by "Grandpa" Al Lewis of Munster fame. 


Sorry to end on a somber note but it was an eerie coincidence that actress Shirley Knight passed away last week on April 21nd on the same night that TCM was showing "The Group," based on Mary McCarthy's incisive novel about Vassar's Class of 1933 and their first years in the real world.


Knight gave an outstanding performance as she always did.  I had forgotten that she had created the role on both Broadway and Hollywood of Reenie in William Inge's achingly beautiful play, "The Dark At The Top of the Stairs."  


She always provided a seemingly placid but deeply emotional coloration to all her roles. In some ways she  reminded me of Sissy Spacek before Sissy Spacek came on the scene.  Shirley Knight was 83 and she died at the home of her daughter Caitlin Hopkins who chairs the theatre program at Texas State U in San Marcos.  


That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it (even if you have to wear a mask a lot of the time.) 








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