Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1958. Warner Bros., A George Abbott and Stanley Donen Production. Screenplay by George Abbott, based on the musical by George Abbott, Douglass Wallop, from the novel The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant by Douglass Wallop. Cinematography by Harold Lipstein. Produced by George Abbott, Stanley Donen. Production Design by Stanley Fleischer. Costume Design by Jean Eckart, William Eckart. Film Editing by Frank Bracht. Academy Awards 1958. Golden Globe Awards 1958.
Ray Walston is hilarious as the devil (here known as Mr. Applegate) come to earth to seduce disgruntled Washington Senators’ fan Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) into entering a Faustian pact with him: Joe gets to become the greatest baseball player ever on earth in exchange for his immortal soul. It’s a done deal, and Joe instantly becomes young and handsome Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter); unfortunately, he is still attached to his wife and wants to continue living with her, so Applegate enlists the services of master seductress Lola (Gwen Verdon), and whatever Lola wants, Lola gets! Verdon’s performance in this role is so fantastic you’ll be mortified that she didn’t get the opportunity to show off on the big screen again until Cocoon in 1985. Bob Fosse’s choreography is top-notch, and all of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ songs (taken from the Broadway musical with only three songs cut and a new one added) are excellently performed. Hunter is infectiously charming as the young Joe, and though he seems a little stiff at times, his wide-eyed innocence is much better than some would give him credit for. The film’s only shortcoming is direction by George Abbott (who directed the original play) and Stanley Donen that misses a few steps thanks to some awkward editing. It’s no real fault though: these actors could ride comfortably over any bump in the road. Look for choreographer (and Verdon’s then-husband) Fosse making a cameo in the “Who’s Got The Pain?” number. If you like it go and rent Abbott and Donen’s previous success with an Adler and Ross musical, The Pajama Game.