The Batter’s Eye: Angels in the Outfield

Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas) is the cranky, foul-mouthed manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are facing a bad losing streak. An angel promises him the team will start winning if Guffy cleans up his act (and mouth). With the help of a kind-hearted reporter, Jennifer (Janet Leigh), and a cute orphan, Bridget (Donna Corcoran), Guffy learns the true meaning of baseball and of life.

Poster for Angels in the Outfield

Angels in the Outfield (1951, directed by Clarence Brown) is surprisingly cute. It’s light-hearted fun and while the lessons are all expected ones, it still works.

Douglas is charming and plays both sides of Guffy’s personality well. He’s funny when he’s angry and irritable but sweet as his relationships with both Jennifer and Bridget develop. His progression feels believable, even if it’s caused by divine intervention. Also, his “swearing” is just garbled gibberish, which I know was necessary at the time, but it’s a humorous touch.

As someone who typically doesn’t love cute kids in movies, Corcoran gives Bridget the right amount of sincerity and playfulness that keeps her from being annoying. Baseball fan Bridget, who’d been praying for the Pirates to win, is the only one who can see the angels on the field helping the players, leading people to suspect she’s lying. Her bond with Guffy, who believes her, is genuinely kind.

I also appreciated that as much as the audience knows the angels are real, they’re never shown beyond a couple of feathers. It makes the movie more about faith than a fun little fantasy would otherwise have.

I wish Leigh’s Jennifer had been given a bit more to do, but she’s a sweet presence in both Bridget and Guffy’s lives by the end. It was also neat watching her become a baseball fan during the course of the movie.

The baseball action is also good and edited together extremely well. There is clearly some trickery — there will be a crack of the bat hitting the ball when there was no ball anywhere nearby — but it’s effective enough. I liked how much of the runtime of the movie was devoted to baseball.

The “courtroom” (it was just in front of baseball commissioners) scene about if Guffy sincerely believed angels were helping him went on a little long but was also probably necessary. And of course, the ending has the Pirates winning the pennant-deciding game without help from the angels. (Unlike It Happens Every Spring, I’m not quite sure if divine intervention exactly counts as cheating though.)

I wasn’t expecting too much from this one but I was impressed. In its own way, it does capture the magic of baseball, even when angels aren’t involved.