Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 12, 2021)
Warner Archive releases boast a commitment to original movie poster art. I admire that, especially when it means we get unfortunately dated promo lines such as “MGM’s Gay Technicolor Musical!”
That accompanies 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a star-studded effort. Set in the early 1900s, the movie introduces us to Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly).
During the colder months, Dennis and Eddie work as vaudeville stage performers. When the weather turns warm, however, they play baseball for the championship Chicago Wolves.
When KC Higgins (Esther Williams) inherits ownership of the Wolves, some friction results, but Dennis falls in love with her. Playboy Eddie butts heads with KC but the two show sparks, a factor that aggravates Dennis – who also deals with the infatuation of baseball fan Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett).
Though I knew of Busby Berkeley’s fame as a choreographer, not until Take did I see a film that he directed. A look over his filmography reveals no well-known flicks for which he served as director, so this doesn’t shock me.
I do feel a bit surprised to realize that Kelly and Sinatra only worked on three films together. They first paired for 1945’s Anchors Aweigh and a few months after Take, 1949’s On the Town would become their final co-starring flick.
Aweigh bored me, but given the talent involved, I hoped Take would work better. Alas, it doesn’t, as the movie becomes a bit of a chore to watch.
Much more of a chore than it should given the cast. It astonishes me that legends like Sinatra, Kelly and Williams can’t create anything more interesting than this snoozer.
Though I suspect most of the blame lands on Berkeley. Whatever skills he displayed as a choreographer didn’t carry over to the director’s chair, as he brings little style or panache to Take.
Surprisingly, Berkeley avoids his signature complicated showpiece sequences here. While Take comes with plenty of song/dance numbers, they tend to stick with strangely restrained choreography.
Perhaps this reflected the cast, as Sinatra possessed restricted dancing skills. When Take asks Sinatra and Kelly to hoof together, the former’s limitations become clear, as the more natural and fluid Kelly almost literally dances circles around him.
Still, Take seems oddly devoid of any memorable production numbers. The songs feel forgettable and the dances become bland as well. A number that allows Kelly to perform solo almost kicks to life, but it doesn’t quite get there.
Nothing else about Berkeley’s direction brings flair to the tale. We get stiff camerawork and no sense of fluidity or charisma.
It doesn’t help that Take often feels more like a collection of musical numbers with a rudimentary story wrapped around them. The characters never emerge as intriguing or memorable, and as mentioned, the song/dance pieces feel stilted and mediocre.
Take even barely uses Williams in her natural milieu, as it only tosses out a minor swimming sequence that never utilizes her skills in that regard. With all the talent involved, the movie shows potential, but it turns into a slow-paced dud.