Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movie: Death on the Diamond (1934)

The Mets have played their last meaningful game in 2010 and are currently battling for a .500 finish and third place in the NL East. The Mariners, meanwhile, are on the verge of having the worst record in the American League. With no vested interest in the remaining pennant races, I had to get my baseball fix somewhere.

Death on the Diamond is based on a novel by Cortland Fitzsimmons, whose work as a screenwriter includes the gotta-see-it-to-believe-it The Devil with Hitler. Pop Clark is both owner and manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a state of affairs that happens regularly in professional sports. He’s mortgaged the team to his eyeballs but is sure they’ll take the pennant thanks to fireballing phenom Robert Young, who immediately falls for Pop’s daughter (Madge Evans, a dead ringer for Kristen Bell). The Cards start winning in spite of Young’s deranged windmill throwing style, which is still better than Anthony Perkins’ form in Fear Strikes Out. A gambling syndicate does not like.

This is the sort of lighthearted comic mystery in which a baserunner is killed by a sniper as he rounds third and another player dies after slathering poisoned mustard on his hot dog. There’s time for things to get maudlin as an umpire tells the dead slugger he’s been feuding with for the entire movie that “you’re not out, you’re safe!” A character literally comes in from left field and is introduced with “As you know ...” dialogue so atrocious that it instantly identifies him as the killer. There’s no nationwide panic as one Redbird after another goes down swinging, just changes in the odds. The mystery is solved in the best Scooby Doo fashion, and the happy ending has a pitcher hitting a walkoff inside-the-park home run that sends the Cardinals to the World Series with most of their starting nine six feet under. The Gashouse Gang they are not.

It’s a terrible movie. It was still better than watching the Yankees clinch again. With Mickey Rooney.