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Laramie Movie Scope:
It Happens Every Spring

Romantic comedy gripped between the seams of a fantasy baseball

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1949, b/w) On the mound, director Lloyd Bacon winds up with an unbeatable romantic comedy gripped between the seams of a fantasy baseball, hurling a perfect game (from a screenplay by Valentine Davies, who co-wrote the original story with Shirley W. Smith, nominated for an Academy Award).

Opening with a quote from Albert Einstein on how science can affect "the philosophical view of problems," our story centers on the financial concerns of Vernon K. Simpson (Ray Milland), a college professor of chemistry, who can't afford to marry Deborah Greenleaf (Jean Peters), a senior in his class and the daughter of the university's president, Dr Alfred Greenleaf (Ray Collins). Though he's a respected scholar, he hasn't completed his PhD after having served in the Pacific during the war; and every spring he turns somewhat absent-minded (hiding his enthusiasm for baseball).

To an anxious Debby he says reassuringly: "You're almost everything I think about." His big hope is for the results of an experiment to produce a chemical compound with huge commercial value. But just as the white "wonderful precipitate" is forming inside a beaker in his lab, a ball comes crashing through the window, destroying the apparatus and ruining his many months of tedious effort. Disillusioned, thinking he'll have no job now and no future, he picks up the baseball lying in a pan of the solution and lets it roll across the counter where it avoids touching two pieces of wood.

While he records his observation in his notebook - "Impossible to duplicate exact solution" - he recalls hearing on the radio the announcer for the St Louis ballclub having said that the team needs a good pitcher to have a competitive chance this season. Calling into his office two players on the university's varsity baseball team who are failing his organic chemistry course, Prof Simpson asks Schmidt (Alan Hale Jr, who will become the skipper on Gillian's Island) and Tommy Isabell for a favor on the ball field early the next morning to test his new idea in exchange for private tutoring for his class and keeping quiet about his pitching to Tommy.

After requesting an immediate, indefinite leave of absence, giving Dr Greenleaf (who has a dim view of athletics in an academic institution) only a vague sense of what he's up to, Vernon goes directly to the office of Jimmy Dolan (Ted de Corsia), manager of the St Louis baseball team, announcing himself: "I'm a pitcher, Mr Dolan. And you need one badly…. I can win thirty games for you." As Dolan calls for a policeman ("He thinks he's Walter Johnson") to have what he sees as a gasconading braggart removed from his presence, Vernon appeals to the team owner Edgar Stone (Ed Begley), who ("I have never met such bland conceit") instructs Dolan: "Let him pitch to the boys."

(At the time of this motion picture, St Louis had two Major League teams, the American League Browns and the National League Cardinals. Regardless of where Dolan's team plays, home or away, the players always wear uniforms with "St Louis" across the front of the jerseys, whereas only on away games did the actual teams display the name of the city; at home the uniforms displayed the club's nickname. Since this St Louis team plays games against Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, it must be the Cardinals.)

Removing his glasses and putting on the uniform (like Clark Kent's becoming Superman), Vernon throwing to backup catcher Monk Lanigan (Paul Douglas, who wearing number 8 reminds me of Yogi Berra) with his "hot ball hoppin'" strikes out the best of the team's hitters, impressing Stone ("You may find a star anywhere") and Dolan.

In his first appearance in relief, Kelly (as Vernon calls himself) saves a win for the club against Chicago; he asks for $1,000 as compensation for every game he wins, going on to claim more than 40 victories (apparently without a loss), including a no-hitter against New York (Giants). Assigned to keep an eye on the "screwball" Kelly (who tends to express himself in what sounds like doubletalk, saying he's doing the one thing his girlfriend's father wants by doing the one thing he despises"), Monk rooms with the pitcher, who explains to the veteran ballplayer: "Everything I do is perfectly logical."

When Monk notices a bottle with Kelly's special solution, Kelly says it's hair tonic, which Monk tries out on his own crine, with humorous results. To let Debby know that he hasn't abandoned her, Vernon sends her a telegram accompanying a diamond ring from his success on the ball diamond; but her parents suspect he's "mixed up in some kind of racket" with "gangsters."

When Kelly avoids the press, fearful of having his photograph in newspapers and seen by people who could identify him, Monk comes to his aid, explaining to the sportswriters that Kelly's wartime experiences make him jumpy around flashbulbs. Jersey number 22, King Kelly, the greatest pitcher in baseball, carries his teammates into the World Series against the New York (Yankees) ballclub, but for the deciding, seventh and final game, Kelly has to pitch without his magical mixture.

Most of the scenes depicting events on the field appear realistic or are taken from actual footage of baseball games. At the conclusion, Kelly finally admits to Monk: "I was a chemistry teacher…. And the sum of money I received for teaching science to the youth of this state for an entire year was a little less than I got in a single afternoon for tossing a five-ounce sphere past a young man holding a wooden stick."

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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