5 February 2006 | theowinthrop
You Gotta Have Heart!
This musical, when revived about a decade ago with Jerry Lewis as Applegate, was referred to as a fable for the Eisenhower Years. It is set in a faintly comfortable period (once the McCarthyite Persecutions were finished), because the concept of this musical was the preoccupation of the American public with the national pastime of baseball, and it's singular domination (between 1947 and 1962) by the New York Yankees. Although the Yankees had had other periods of greatness, with Ruth, Gehrig, "Murderers Row" in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they had to share the domination of the World Series with other teams in that period (the Philadelphia Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals, to name three). But the Yankees in this period started with Joe DiMaggio, entered into the period dominated by Mickey Mantel, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Don Larsen, Roger Maris, and presided over by Casey Stengel. They did not always win (one memorable defeat was by their perennial enemy the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955), but they won so often that to non-baseball fans it was monotonous to follow the sports news: you knew what should finally happen.
So the background of this baseball era is important to understand the musical (one of the few times the actual historical background of the time the musical was created becomes that important). Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is a fanatical baseball lover and fan of the woebegone Washington Senators (the saying for many years about the Senators was, "First in war, first in peace, and last in their league."). The team had only one great moment: in 1924 they won the World Series when the team had one of baseball's greatest players on it - Walter Johnson. But it never really was in competition again after that. But Boyd is a fan, and he makes the mistake of being willing to sell his soul to allow the Senators a chance to win the series again. Enter Mr. Applegate (a.k.a. the Devil) played fiendishly well by Ray Walston. He offers Joe a contract that will make Joe the greatest baseball player of all time - and lead to the world series - in return for his soul. Hesitant at first, Joe agrees. He is transformed into Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter), and proceeds to try to join the Senators (with Applegate as his agent).
The Devil can never be trusted in any agreement. Applegate hopes to cause a wave of hope and hysteria by the anti-Yankee baseball public, letting Joe lead his team to the World Series. He plans to pull the rug from underneath the team at the final moment. Unfortunately Joe is a good salesman on his own, and has insisted on an escape clause for himself. Applegate has to accept it for the sake of his own plans. The escape clause is there because Joe loves his wife Meg (Sharon Bolin) and does not want her to be hurt. So Applegate decides to recruit his best female agent, Lola (Gwen Vernon) to vamp Joe and make him forget Meg. But Joe is too faithful, and succeeds in overcoming Lola's "irrisistable" personality (as she sings, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets" - except here). Lola, shaken by the experience, becomes a type of groupie for Joe - and eventually starts a mini-revolt on her own against Applegate.
The score of the show is memorable. Besides the key song "Heart" (sung by the Washington team players), and Lola's "Whatever" number, there is also "Two Lost Souls", "Goodbye Old Girl" and Walston's wonderful "Those were the good old days!" (when he fondly recalls all the tragedies he created in the history of mankind - including the day Jack the Ripper was born). Walston was not nominated for any awards for the movie performance*, but his Applegate is one of his best film performances, with his Gillis in SOUTH PACIFIC. He had played both on Broadway first, so we are lucky to have his film performances here.
*(But won the Tony Award for the role on stage.)
Stanley Donan co-directed this film with George Abbott. Abbott was usually a stage director (he had done the musical on Broadway). There is a moment when it is apparent that he is directing. There is a small dance done by one of the three ball players in the "Heart" number, and the close-up of the player as he smiles shyly and steps forward is out of place in the film - but would have worked on stage.