Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Alibi Ike

Alibi Ike - poster fixCinema Monolith: 7/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 6.1/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *** out of 4

Released on June 15, 1935
Not rated
72 minutes

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)

Alibi Ike - photo

24 comments on “Alibi Ike

  1. grandrapidsgirl

    In little old Niles, MI back in the ’70s, the sister-school to mine was named after Lardner. Of course all the “bad” kids went there!

    Awesome review!! And yes you are THE consummate baseball perfectionist – and greatest film authority I know!!! Carry on!

    • Todd B

      I forgot to tell you, while researching info for my review, I saw that Ring Lardner was born in Niles! I would think, though, that the library would be named after him, instead of the ‘bad’ school! Thanks as always for checking out my posts…and I’m the greatest film authority you know? Didn’t you once date Gene Shalit?

  2. An easy choice for you. Baseball and Olivia a nice combination. I have this one as well but like many in my oversized pile, haven’t got to it yet. Truthfully, I didn’t even know it was a baseball flick. Love William Frawley who turned up in another baseball film I like, Kill the Umpire.

    • Todd B

      Yeah, as soon as I saw it in her filmography, and realized it was a baseball film AND I owned it, it was a no-brainer to review. And I learned some cool things about William Frawley while researching the film: he was not only part-owner of the Hollywood Stars minor league team, but also had a stipulation written into his I Love Lucy contract stating that if his favorite team, the Yankees, was playing in the World Series, he didn’t have to work on game days. Because of this, he didn’t appear in two episodes of the show!

  3. Wait a minute. Olivia de Havilland was in a baseball movie?! How on earth did I miss this? I just watched the trailer on YouTube and it looks like terrific fun. Thanks for the introduction! 🙂

    • Todd B

      You are most certainly welcome! Don’t worry, at first I missed the ‘Olivia and baseball’ connection as well…and I own the movie! And yes, it is quite fun…the dialogue interactions between Ike and his skeptical teammates are just great. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a Silver Screenings review, hopefully coming soon!

  4. Joe Thompson

    Great review. I saw this one on television when I was young. I was probably the only person of my generation who went into it having read the Ring Lardner story and Joe E Brown’s memoir “Laughter is a Wonderful Thing.” I was willing to overlook the weird baseball stuff.

    • Todd B

      Hi Joe, and thanks for the compliment. That’s funny, I saw Elmer the Great when I was young, my introduction to Joe E. Brown. I’ll have to see if I can find that memoir at the library…I never knew it existed. And indeed, that’s my curse: being an overly-demanding baseball fan when it comes to movie authenticity, and expecting filmmakers to do their baseball scenes right…even in comedies! (For an example of my exacting standards, see my review for The Fan)

  5. Phyl

    This is definitely a Joe E. Brown film but Olivia is lovely as always. There’s a polka dot hat she has that I just love 🙂 Thanks for covering this film for the Blogathon! Hopefully it has introduced you to some more of Olivia’s movies!!

    • Todd B

      Thanks for co-hosting, Phyl, and for letting me be a part of the festivities! And yes, your blogathon has definitely opened my eyes to Olivia’s filmography…a lot of good reviews of films that I now want to check out. And now I have to go back and watch Alibi Ike again to see that polka dot hat!

      • Joe Thompson

        I looked at your review of The Fan, which I have avoided even though I am an occasionally unreasonable San Francisco Giants fan. Playing in a downpour? Wow.

      • Todd B

        It’s basically a typhoon they’re slopping their way through; if you’re serious about baseball, trust me, this film is not for the squeamish.

  6. Keisha

    Great review Todd! I actually saw this last year on TCM during their Summer Under the Stars program, as it was featured in Olivia’s line-up of films. It’s a nice little early role for her, but this really belongs to Joe E. Brown. All those alibis reminded me of the Marx Brothers banter too.

    • Todd B

      Thanks, Keisha! I do miss having TCM, and seeing so many cool films during their Summer Under the Stars and Summer of Darkness series. And it’s funny how, in a way, the baseball and romance sequences take a back seat to the alibi moments…which I guess makes sense for a film with ‘alibi’ in the title!

  7. hamlettethedame

    This sounds so unusual! My goodness, this blogathon is introducing me to so many movies I’d never known existed, like this one. Thanks for posting about it!

    • Todd B

      Hi Rachel, and thanks for the visit! And if you start watching this and find it too unusual, give Elmer the Great a try!

      • hamlettethedame

        Thanks! I’ll keep an eye out for that one too.

      • Todd B

        Both films are available as Warner Archive discs, and I’m sure TCM plays ’em every now and then, and especially during baseball season.

  8. grandrapidsgirl

    Okay, I can’t find the thread, but want to make a request – for (whenever you get around to it) The Shawshank Redemption. My all-time fave. If it’s not in your tower, lemme know and I’ll make sure it gets there. Looking forward to more fun reviews from you regardless!!

    • Todd B

      Whoa, whoa, WHOA! What do you mean, your all-time fave is The Shawshank Redemption? I thought it was Silence of the Lambs! Or maybe even Se7en, which I think you switched your allegiance to after we saw it. Well, okay, Shawshank it is!

      And no, that is not part of the Monolith collection, but I’m sure my library has it. And I will definitely add it to my ‘to be watched’ list!

  9. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I’ve always heard of this film, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it. After reading your post, I’m definitely going to change that, and treat myself to a viewing.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my two upcoming blogathons. The links are below with more details.

    • Todd B

      Thanks for hosting the event, Crystal, and thanks again for including me! This was a fun film, and if you’ve never seen anything with Joe E. Brown, I think you’ll get a kick out of him once you do.

  10. Julie Dunning

    Think after 10 viewings of the Lambs I was no longer a convert – sorry. And I think Seven occupies the #2 slot. You don’t see that one much on the tube. Will see what I can do to get you a clean copy of TSR. Thanks for your willingness to cooperate someday with your analysis. Can’t wait!! 🙂

    • Todd B

      Well, I always knew Lambs was #1 until Se7en came along, but now I’ll remember Shawshank as the new top cinema dog. On a trivial note: following hockey over the past several years, and checking out programs and media guides, most players pick Shawshank as their favorite movie of all time.

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Review Totals

Movies Reviewed: 222

From the Monolith: 123

Movies by Decade

1920s – 0
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1940s – 19
1950s – 35
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1 star – 12
0 star – 3

Movies by MPAA Rating

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G – 1
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R – 58
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