They Learned About Women
In the summer, they belt the ol' horsehide. In the winter, they belt out songs. They're Jerry Burke and Jack Glennon, stars on the baseball field and the vaudeville circuit. Real-life vaudevillians Gus Van and Joe Schenck, whose piano act carried them to fame in the Ziegfeld Follies footlights and on early-radio airwaves, headline this spirited 1930 musical that combines World Series heroics with the quest for romance (The Broadway Melody's Bessie Love plays the female lead). The film's baseball-vaudeville scenario stepped up to the plate again in 1949 with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Esther Williams in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Batter - and curtain - up, musicals fans!
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Now, the movie itself is more than a tad corny, less than politically correct, to put it mildly: lots of Irish/Jewish/Italian "ethnic" accents and jokes; not a black guy to be seen on the baseball team except as masseusse attendents in the locker room, but we have to wincingly remind ourselves it WAS 1929/1930, and at least in this film no one on the train treats the porter too horribly condescendingly. We get a lot of ambience -- train travel, hotels, clothing, a drearily dull baseball game and the guys making their living in the wintertime as two very tiresome (to us nowadays) vaudeville performers. Little skinny Bessie Love, charmingly plain in a jolie-laide kind of way -- but what spectacular clothes -- once more plays the rejected girlfriend as she did in 1929's The Broadway Melody, and this time her competition is an utterly trashy, snotty femme fatale who manipulates all the men about her with heartless gusto and snares herself an expedient marriage to get herself ahead in show business. Plenty of Pre-Code language from the hotel detectives mark her as the troublemaking tramp she is, and even the mawkish ending doesn't entirely eradicate this character's bravura scenery-chewing. If one watches sympathetically and reminds one's self that this was late 1920's entertainment, the yawningly stupid parts of the movie can be forgiven and it's all worth it just to see the Harlem Madness segment!
The jist of the story is that vaudevillians Jerry Burke (Gus Van) and Jack Glennon (Joe Schenck) are singers half the year, baseball players with the Blue Sox the other half. Jerry is the partying type and Jack is the more level-headed one with a girl that he plans to marry soon, Mary (Bessie Love). Everything has been running smoothly until gold digging Daisy (Mary Doran) gets her eye on Jack and his earning potential.
Besides the baseball scenes from 80 years ago, the best part of this whole film is Nina Mae McKinney singing and dancing to Harlem Madness as well as a close look at two true vaudevillians - Gus and Schenck - in numbers that are pretty close to what they did on stage. Also, the fact is that, besides a couple of Vitaphone shorts, this is the only filmed record of their act or of their acting. Two songs in particular will probably seem jaw-droppingly politically incorrect to most modern viewers - "I'm an Old-Fashioned Guy" and "Dougherty Is the Name", but actually the sentiments in these songs do represent main-stream values of 80 years ago. The contrived comedy skits land with a bit of a thud, and it is a bit of a stretch to think of an entire baseball team breaking into barbershop style song in the shower after the game, but believe me you won't be bored.
One thing that cracked me up - and this is only a conjecture on my part - actress Mary Doran as the gold digger has a voice that is identical to the cheating wife-dog in the "All Barkies" Dogville short Hot Dog. Since she was under contract to MGM at the time, and MGM is the studio that produced the Dogville shorts, I wonder if that was her voice. It sure did sound like her.
At any rate, I do highly recommend this one.
The audio and video are good on this one. This film was released on laser disc under the Dawn of Sound set in the early 1990's, and it does look like it has been cleaned up in comparison to that release - not a lot, but some. Do note that this is a DVD-R and has no extra features, not even chapter stops. You may only go forwards and backwards in ten minute increments.