The Batter’s Eye: Damn Yankees

Another good way to win at baseball is to sell your soul to the devil.

The post for Damn Yankees

Based on the Broadway musical, Damn Yankees (1958, directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen) is about a Washington Senators fan, Joe (Robert Shafer) who would do anything for the team to win. He makes a deal with the devil (Ray Walston), going by the name of Applegate, to be transformed into a 22-year-old man (Tab Hunter) to join the Senators and lead them to win.

This is fun if pretty inconsequential. Joe is just a good person and yes, selling one’s soul for the sake of baseball is questionable, but he’s doing it for the genuine love of the game (and he, of course, can get out of it). And as a Nationals fan, I understand what it feels like to root for a losing Washington baseball team.

Gwen Verdon is fun as Lola, Applegate’s accomplice, who is sent to seduce Joe so he’ll lose his soul. The Bob Fosse-choreographed numbers give this a more artistic feel than I expected and it is bright and colorful movie. The musical numbers, though, don’t contribute that much to the plot, and that was a disappointment for me.

I am glad that Joe’s made-up background was questioned because I did find it suspect he could just show up to where the Senators were and suddenly join the team, even if he was good and they were in last place.

The baseball action is decent enough. There are still a lot of cuts and wide shots to hide that these are actors but it’s effective. I understand, though, that one doesn’t watch a baseball movie to see a lot of baseball.

The most amusing thing about this for me, though, is that the Warner Brothers Studios backlot was standing in for Chevy Chase. Even in 1958, Chevy Chase didn’t look like that!

I don’t have any major complaints about this one, honestly. I do with the music blended more with the plot but the songs are good and the movie itself is delightful. I think this will be a good summer rewatch any time the Nationals are losing. And let’s face it — that’s going to be most summers.