Little Movie, Big Leaguer
I happened upon this little, B-movie from 1953 this week. I was flipping channels and saw that TCM had some film upcoming in a few minutes called, Big Leaguer, with Edward G. Robinson (who I love) and Vera-Ellen (who...well, I'm not a big fan of.). It had to do with a baseball Spring Training camp for rookie tryouts. I recorded it, and thought I’d watch a few minutes. What caught my attention though were the opening credits. Halfway through the list of supporting actors, one name leaped out – Carl Hubbell!
For those of you who don't know the legendary Carl Hubbell -- He was one of the great pitchers in baseball, in the Hall of Fame and twice the National League Most Valuable Player, winning 253 games. He played for the New York Giants from 1928-1943 and still holds the record with 24 consecutive victories -- but Hubbell is probably best remembered for a singular, remarkable achievement: not just striking our five consecutive batters in an All Star Game, but WHO those five were: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin...all five who later were elected to the Hall of Fame.
I had to see that, of course. Carl freaking Hubbell in a movie. I thought that if it was truly awful, I’d just fast forward to his scenes. Not unexpectedly, the film wasn’t great, but actually fun. The story is silly, and what you’d expect for a 70-minute program filler. But what was really enjoyable is that they did their best to make the baseball action as solid as possible. They seemed to hire a lot of minor leaguers, or actors who had baseball experience.
(The lead “kid,” played by Jeff Richards, was so terrific in his baseball scenes that I checked him out on iMDB. It turns out that he played in the minors, but got hurt, and when rehabbing in Los Angeles got discovered. He actually had a fairly long career. Not distinguished, but he was in a couple classics, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Angels in the Outfield, and even starred in his own TV series, Jefferson Drum.)
So, I stuck with the movie to watch all the baseball stuff – it’s mainly training, though the film ends of course with The Game. But when the coaches are hitting ground balls, you can tell that these guys are the real deal. And the fielders are, too.
Carl Hubbell doesn’t have much to do, obviously. He plays himself – the team is a division of the New York Giants – but he has a few lines, and is fine. It’s just a treat to see him. And by the way, the manager of the opposing team in The Game at the end is for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They call him Al – it’s Al Campanis. A very young Al Campanis, the longtime, former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Who infamously ended up getting fired after a distinguished career, when he screwed up on Nightline.) I wouldn’t have known it was him until the closing credits, except that when I stopped the film and looked up that lead “kid” I saw that Al Campanis was listed.
In checking out a bit about the movie, it happens that it's inspired by a real-life baseball scout, John "Hans" Lobert, the character played by Robinson. He even has a bit part in the movie as one of those coaches who I'd thought looked like he really knew his baseball. Turns out that he did.
And the movie is notable in another way. It was the first feature film directed by Robert Aldrich, who went on to have an admired career, including such movies as The Dirty Dozen, Vera Cruz, The Longest Yard, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and many more.
I don’t recommend anyone rent it, but if it ever comes your way, and you like baseball movies, you’d probably really enjoy fast-forwarding to all the baseball sequences. Though flawed, they were honestly among the better ones I’ve seen in a baseball movie, which is impressive for a movie so otherwise ordinary. Hey, it's just 70 minutes, if you watch the whole thing, it's over quickly.
For those really interested, it's available to watch in its entirety on YouTube here. (Carl Hubbell makes his first appearance at the 1:10:11 mark.)
By the way, the story takes place in Florida, and I’m sure they filmed it there, not common for the day. It could have been Southern California, but it seemed to look different enough – though that could have been that it was 60 years ago. But the architecture, too, seemed closer to what I’ve seen of Florida than here. A touch more “colonial” than Spanish. The point is that it adds a nice texture to the movie.
Here are a couple of nice scenes with Edward G. Robinson. The sound goes out-of-sync in the middle, but eventually gets back on track.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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