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Sporting July: It Happened in Flatbush (1942)

Sports have been a popular recreational activity since ancient times. They develop and show-off physical prowess as well as foster teamwork and fun. Sports have become big business and some of the major tournaments bring thousands of people together to root for their team in a world that is increasingly divided. This month we celebrate sports movies from the classic era.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Lloyd Nolan is Frank “Butterfingers” Maguire, a washed-up baseball player who is stuck in the bush leagues after an error cost his team the pennant seven years earlier. He’s still reviled by Brooklynites, but is give a chance to return as manager by the team’s owner Mac McAvoy (Sara Allgood). Unfortunately for Butterfingers, a few days after his contract is signed, Mac passes away and the team is now controlled by her niece Kathryn Baker (Carole Landis) who doesn’t know the first thing about baseball, and regards her aunt’s ownership of the team as a hobby. Naturally, Butterfingers and Kathryn become romantically involved, which causes some issues with the team.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: "Nice work if you can get it," as they say. He does his best to convince her to invest high dollar amounts to secure the players they need for a win.

RB: This is a delightful baseball movie full of great performances. Lloyd Nolan is a perennial Picture Show favorite, and his role here is typical of the kinds of parts he was getting at 20th Century Fox during this time. This film was released in-between two Michael Shayne films, and also reminded me of another baseball film starring Nolan called Mr. Dynamite, which we were lucky to see at Cinevent awhile back. I highly recommend digging that one up if you can.

SG: Nolan is one of the most reliably good actors of this era. He has as much charm as Ronald Colman, but with a streetwise demeaner and a New York accent. IMDB lists seven films for him in 1942 including four Michael Shayne titles, a series we love. It is a wonder he had enough energy to shine as brightly as he does in these films playing characters with intelligence and strong work ethics. In many ways this role as the optimistic new team manager with some personal demons reminds me of Ted Lasso. You’re always in his corner regardless of the mistakes he makes. He also plays comedy well, and we are treated to laughs throughout the film, including an awkward date in the soda shoppe.

RB: And of course, there’s the lovely Carole Landis, who I’m not sure has ever looked more beautiful. This film was released just before Orchestra Wives, which may have been her biggest role at Fox (well, either that or I Wake Up Screaming). It’s a real shame that she never got the break that she deserved, and even today if a person knows who she is, it’s because of her untimely death by suicide at 29 years old, not for the admirable work that she did during the war, or the series of delightful and varied films that she made during her short career (we’ve reviewed a couple of others here on the blog). I’m a big fan of Fox films during the war years, and she pops up in a lot of them and is always more than competent. I’d love to see a full-length study of her work and life from someone.

SG: I didn’t entirely believe that Miss Baker would be interested in the rough-edged former ball player. It was clear why he would be interested in her, but we needed another scene to explain her first spark of attraction to him. Landis was a gorgeous woman, and her beauty shines even more brightly in this film where she dazzles in rich-heiress costumes provided by Twentieth Century Fox.

Film Bulletin praised the female performances. “Carole Landis does better work than usual as the blasé society girl who turns into a human being and Sara Allgood is a stand-out in her brief appearance as the sharp-tongued veteran owner of the club.”

RB: The rest of the supporting cast features a lot of faces that we know and love. William Frawley has a sizable role in this, albeit essentially the same role that he plays in most everything, and I’m sure you noted Scotty Beckett here, who gets in some good lines.

SG: Beckett was a wise-ass with an incongruous baby face, nice decoration for this movie. I also spotted Gino Corrado as the waiter in the nightclub.

We are treated to several baseball game scenes, with Maguire hollering at his players from the dugout. The sun shines brightly, causing the players to squint, and their unforms get dirty from their efforts on the diamond. The stands are crowded with rowdy fans from days of yore when men went to the ballfield in suits and hats, though some of them loosened their ties or got down to shirtsleeves. Ebbets Field, which is now the cite of apartments after the stadium was demolished in 1960. The actual baseball sequences were shot at Gilmore Field in Los Angeles, demolished in 1958, but establishing shots were captured at Ebbets.

RB: “Best baseball picture yet on program basis,” stated D.E. Burnett of the State Theatre in Larned, Kansas. E.M. Freeburger didn’t go quite that far, but did agree that this is a, “good baseball picture.” (He ran it on a double bill with Moontide and Tom & Jerry in Bowling Alley Cat…wish I could’ve been there…) Others like Thomas Di Lorenzo in New Pat, NY felt that it may be too baseball oriented for the regular movie goer. “Otherwise, it doesn’t mean a thing and won’t even be worth playing.” Well, I disagree.

SG: “Few sport films contain as much spontaneous entertainment as this picture of the great American game of baseball,” wrote the reviewer for Motion Picture Reviews. “Along with the fast moving, exciting story there is a revelation of the psychology of baseball adherents: the near-hysteria of ordinary citizens, the power of the press on public opinion and the trigger tension of the players themselves.”

The Film Daily praised the game scenes, writing, “These sequences are effectively photographed and capture uncommonly well the feeling and color of baseball. Ray McCarey’s direction, a lusty job, is notable for its emphasis on speed.”

RB: Honestly, everything about this movie clicked for me. I really enjoyed it for the unpretentious easy going sort of film that it is. This is the sort of movie that I always hope every old movie that I watch will be like, and I will bestow four stars upon it with no hesitation.

SG: Although I am no sports fan, when I think of good sports movies I think of ones just like this. I don't need a grandiose hero who overcomes all the obstacles. I even tune out sometimes during the "big game" scenes. Give me the flavor of the sport, the stories about the players behind the scenes, a sense of the team and how they work together, and what it means to be icons in your hometown. This movie delivers where I need it to. How can you go wrong with Lloyd Nolan? Four stars.

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