The Batter’s Eye: Rhubarb

An eccentric millionaire, Thaddeus J. Banner (Gene Lockhart) leaves his fortune and holdings — including a baseball team — to his cat, Rhubarb (Orangey, among other cats).

The poster for Rhubarb

Yes, Rhubarb (1951, directed by Arthur Lubin) is about a cat that owns a baseball team. Well, it’s more about Eric (Ray Milland), who is named caretaker of Rhubarb.

Despite their initial reluctance to play on a team owned by a cat, Eric finds a way for the players to be won over by Rhubarb, who becomes a good luck charm and a celebrity attraction for the team (the team isn’t named, exactly, but they play for Brooklyn so they’re supposed to be a fictionalized Brooklyn Dodgers).

Complicating matters, Eric’s fiancée, Polly (Jan Sterling), is allergic to Rhubarb (but apparently only to Rhubarb and not other cats). Also, Banner’s daughter, Myra (Elsie Holmes) is bitter for being cut out of her father’s will (she’s “athletic,” which comes across as code for “she’s a lesbian and therefore an improper heir”) so she sues Eric and Rhubarb.

And there are also bookies. And Rhubarb is kidnapped.

Sometimes there is baseball.

This movie, even at just a little more than 90 minutes, feels like the filmmakers started running out of plot and kept having to add complications to extend the runtime. Can’t sustain the humor of having a cat own a baseball team? Add in a courtroom scene! Did that not fill up enough time? Then yeah, there is an entire gambling conspiracy.

It’s all fairly fun but it doesn’t amount to much. Millan and Sterling have some decent chemistry, but both mostly just had to show up here. Making Myra into such a one-dimensional villain is such a weird choice (I, too, would be angry if my father left his fortune to his cat).

It’s a movie about a cat that owns a baseball team so it’s not going to be deep, high art. Still, the movie is diverting enough and there is plenty of hijinx and slapstick. It delivers on its promise, anyway.

The baseball action is great and there’s enough of it to make it feel essential to the plot. And unlike It Happens Every Spring or Angels in the Outfield, I don’t consider the presence of Rhubarb to be cheating. He’s just a beloved mascot for the team.

I’m putting this in the category of “fun but instantly forgettable.” Still, I’m surprised this hasn’t been remade. It’s about a cat that owns a baseball team! That’s an entertaining thought on its own.