Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 15, 1935
Directed by Ray Enright
Written by William Wister Haines, based on the story by Ring Lardner
Cast: Joe E. Brown, Olivia de Havilland, Roscoe Karns, Ruth Donnelly, William Frawley, Eddie Shubert, Paul Harvey, Joseph King, G. Pat Collins, Eddy Chandler, Frank Sully, Bob Meusel, Jim Thorpe
When I accepted the invite to take part in the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon, co-hosted by Crystal over at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, I knew I only had two of Olivia’s films in my collection to choose from: Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Robin Hood. And since both of these films had already been claimed by other bloggers, I also knew a trip to the library was on my horizon…but which de Havilland film was I going to watch and review? A quick look at her filmography showed me…wait, I already had another film of hers in my collection, and I didn’t even realize it: the 1935 baseball comedy Alibi Ike.
Created by Ring Lardner for a Saturday Evening Post story written years earlier, Ike was personified on the silver screen by comedic actor Joe E. Brown, in the third of Brown’s trilogy of baseball movies he made during the 1930s (which included Elmer the Great and the improbably-named Fireman, Save My Child). Here Brown stars as Francis X. Farrell, a self-assured minor leaguer ready to make his mark with the major league Chicago Cubs. Besides being a dominating pitcher, he also has a penchant for excuses, tall tales, and alibis for nearly everything he says or does (he ‘just’ had 28 wins the previous season, due to a bout of malaria), earning him the nickname ‘Alibi Ike’ by his bemused teammates.
Soon, this constant fibbing gets him into trouble with his manager, his fellow players, and his new girlfriend Dolly, and when he falls into a pitching slump, a collection of shady gamblers arrive on the scene, hoping to convince him to throw a few games for them. After agreeing to disagree with their offer, Ike is kidnapped by the mobsters, and then must somehow escape their clutches if he hopes to save the pennant-clinching game and win back the hand of Dolly. This he does in typical 1930s screwball fashion, involving himself in a madcap car chase, an oversized baseball uniform, and a frantic dash around the bases in hopes of scoring the game-winning run.
Alibi Ike is a very fun film, and Brown is a hoot as Farrell, a likeable, happy-go-lucky bumpkin who just wants to play baseball and, if there’s time, take a girl to a show. He’s such an ingratiating goofball, you can’t help but like the guy, and it was a treat to watch his interactions with Cubs manager William Frawley and his baseball cronies as he stumbled his way from one white lie to the next. I especially enjoyed the back-and-forth banter between Ike and his teammates (led by character actor Roscoe Karns), which made up the bulk of the film and reminded me of the dialogue-driven Marx Brothers routines involving Groucho and Chico; whether it was on the field, at a pool hall (my favorite bit), inside a jewelry store, or in a hotel room, these ‘alibi’ exchanges were what made the movie so hilarious, and so worthwhile.
And who was Dolly, the adorable female fan who was so smitten with Ike? Why, none other than our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland, making her debut at the tender age of eighteen. I thought she did fine in her first role (well, third role really, but the first seen in theaters), and her romance scenes with Brown were quite sweet and believable, and were a nice compliment to the comedy portion of the story. Beyond that, though, there really wasn’t much for her to do but cheer and gush from the stands whenever Ike was on the field. Still, it led to many great parts down the road, including two Oscar wins for To Each His Own and The Heiress, and eight memorable screen pairings with Errol Flynn.
For a finicky baseball perfectionist like me, I must say that some of the movie’s on-field inaccuracies—a night game with horribly insufficient lighting, Giants wearing Cardinals uniforms, and some rulebook-breaking zaniness that existed strictly for comedy’s sake—had me shaking my head, but everything else about Alibi Ike was worthy of a watch, especially for Joe E. Brown, who seemed to be as equally talented a ballplayer as he was a screen comedian. I still consider Elmer the Great to be the superior of the two, but as far as 1930s baseball films go, Alibi Ike is definitely a close second. And of course, let’s not forget to offer kudos to the lovely Ms. de Havilland, for simply charming the stirrup socks off of everyone. (7/10)