Two of the more popular early postwar Hollywood genres were comic fantasies, often built around a popular sport (It Happens Every Spring
), and comedies, also with fantasy elements, about precocious animals (The Great Rupert
, etc.). Rhubarb
(1951) combines the two into a pleasing if mild concoction that children might still take to, while film buffs will find much to enjoy. [...]
Eccentric millionaire Thaddeus J. Banner (Gene Lockhart) adopts a feral cat caught stealing golf balls from the fairways of his country club. Others hate the cat for disrupting their games, but Banner admires its spirit: "I like things that fight back," he says, "Like artichokes!" Banner, a widower, tames the cat, names it Rhubarb and the two become inseparable. Several years later, when Banner dies, he surprises his business associates and only daughter, spoiled Myra (Elsie Holmes), by leaving nearly his entire estate - some $30 million - to Rhubarb. Eric Yeager (Ray Milland), press agent for Banner's lowly baseball team, is named the pussycat's guardian.
At first, the team doesn't take to their new owner, especially when the other ballclubs and taunting fans begin teasing them about having a cat for a boss. But Yeager tricks the team into thinking Rhubarb will bring them luck, and lo and behold not only do they start enjoying Rhubarb's company, they begin winning games and become contenders in the pennant race. Meanwhile, Yeager's romance with Polly (Jan Sterling), the daughter of team manager Len Sickles (William Frawley, in his last film before playing Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy ) is threatened when she develops an allergy with the cat Yeager must baby-sit 24-7.
[...] The film's greatest asset, something the filmmakers may not have realized since it's so underemphasized, is its heart. Lockhart positively adores Rhubarb, and this eccentric old man's love of an initially unlovable stray is genuinely sweet. (Producer Seaton here reunites Lockhart with Frawley, who played the judge and his campaign manager, respectively, in Miracle on 34th Street.)
Later, in the scene where Yeager tricks the dumb and superstitious ballplayers (including a 20-year-old Leonard Nimoy) into thinking petting Rhubarb will bring them luck, the key actor in the scene is an uncredited Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke). He's hilarious, tentatively approaching the notoriously vicious pussycat, delighted when the cat lets him pet it, then ecstatic when it seems to bring him good luck. This is one of those films crammed with great character types: look for Willard Waterman, James Griffith, Donald MacBride, Madge Blake, Tristram Coffin, Sandra Gould, Donald Kerr, and many others. Sterling's husband Paul Douglas has a funny cameo appearance at the end.
[...] Rhubarb isn't going to top any DVD bestseller lists but it's pleasant with something to offer classic film buffs and families looking for some innocent entertainment. No great shakes, but it's Recommended. --Stuart Galbraith IV of DVDTalk.com