Damn Yankees! Movie Review
This 1958 musical, adapted from George Abbott's Broadway hit, presents a baseball fan's ultimate dream. What if you could help your favorite team win the pennant? And what if you got to be the star of that team?
Well, that dream comes true for lifelong Washington Senators fan, Joe Boyd (Robert Shafter). After another night of watching the hapless Senators lose, Joe receives a visit from the devil. He goes by the name Mr. Applegate (Ray Walston), he likes the color red, and he can make things happen. He can have Joe -- a one-time baseball standout -- play for the Senators and help them reach the promised land. With an escape clause firmly established, Joe writes a note to his long suffering, but tolerant wife (Shannon Bolin) and becomes a strapping 22-year-old superstar Joe Hardy, played by a wooden and charisma-free Tab Hunter.
There's more to this deal than just fulfilling a lifelong dream, so Applegate, who acts as Joe's agent and guide, tries his best to have the man fail. This means recruiting an other-worldly seductress (Gwen Verdon) to get Joe to play ball, but his morals and his love for his abandoned, oblivious wife make him a hard man to seduce, especially as the Senators make a run at the dreaded New York Yankees.
While the Senators make their championship push, Damn Yankees can't get find a winning touch. Walston and Verdon are outstanding, but Walston gets all the good lines. The rest of the movie is an array of hokey, overdone songs and broad performances, as if directors Stanley Donen (a master director of movie musicals) and Abbott forgot they weren't in charge of a Broadway play. The alluring Verdon doesn't appear until almost an hour into the movie, and then she's hampered by the choreography of paramour Bob Fosse, who only lets her limber limbs loose on occasion. Best example: Verdon's "Whatever Lola Wants" striptease, in which Fosse has her shuffle around like Ed Grimley in the old Saturday Night Live skits.
Also, the movie hasn't aged very well. With all of its scandals (drugs, money, Pedro Martinez's Jheri Curl), baseball is no longer America's pastime, even after one of the best postseasons in recent memory. People now have to be reminded of why baseball used to matter, and Damn Yankees! doesn't provide those reasons. I would have liked more scenes in the stands or the sports bars, showing us why millions of people continually root for a team going nowhere. That would have made for a more compelling storyline.
Damn Yankees! is enjoyable fare, if only for the work of the late Verdon and Walston. I can't put it on a level of Singin' in the Rain or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, two of Donen's other gems. The dance routines, songs, and performances do not pass muster. There's no "I've got to hit the rewind button" scene and maybe one song you can't wait to hum on the car ride to work.