Establishing shots render then and now in the history of the sport. The industrial heartland, the mercantile Gehenna, “make it post-new”. Cleveland’s Indians are headed off for the happy hunting ground in Miami, the owner is dead and the showgirl he married wants skyboxes to insulate her from the common herd.
Attendance must fall below 800,000 per annum to break the lease. She hires the worst players she can find, a cross-section of squirts and has-beens managed by the Mud Hens’ own, who puts glasses on the junior ex-con so his fastballs hit the mark, the Cuban expatriate eventually forgoes the voodoo worship in his locker, the wealthy stockwatcher learns to dive for a ball, so that attendance not only increases, it staves off threats to sack the lot and winds up at the World Series.
The filming has a lot to do with Levinson’s The Natural in certain superficial shadings, and a lot more with Huston’s Victory in the double dilemma of team and franchise, to which end the catcher’s ex-wife makes herself a friend among the mammon of unrighteousness, but later goes out to the ball game.
The comedy is very straightforward and very funny, while the structure knits up the ravell’d sleeve of careworn fans preyed upon by freebooters and claimjumpers.
This is the one about the lounge singer who finally plays the Palace. It has good views of Vegas before its hypertrophication, and no care or expense was spared in its palatial settings. Moreover, it’s splendidly directed by Ward, with a number of shots revealing the influence of Richard Lester out of Kubrick (the royal greenhouse, the Frisbee gag, etc.). It’s closely related to Sidney J. Furie’s Global Heresy, and perhaps also to John Osborne’s play The Blood of the Bambergs. “But I must say it’s pretty dreary living in the American Age—unless you’re an American of course,” Jimmy Porter says. “Perhaps all our children will be Americans.”
The construction is dazzling in its rapidity, beginning with one of the most efficient gags ever, the disparition of the Royal Family in a photographer’s flash. This is followed by another coup, the American stripper in London who balks at the last minute and turns out to be English.
But the most striking formal parlay is on the necessitous Roman Holiday of William Wyler, which is turned to account by having the American king of England abdicate (where Wyler has his American pressmen pocket their story).
There is great elegance in the casting. John Goodman as King Ralph tips a palace butler, and Peter O’Toole deftly plucks the bill from the chap’s hand with precisely the gesture of Goodman later retrieving his toothbrush from its glass in the royal loo.
It was a great thing to sort out the latter-day Navy, and David S. Ward did it. Now if he could sort out Hollywood...