by Ken B.
Angels in the Outfield is the equivalent of cheap takeout. It’s fine enough when consumed, even though goes in and out of you at such a rate that it in the long run had little point in being, but it exudes a pedigree nonetheless, obviously enough of one that it received a remake 43 years later (which featured Danny Glover and a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It really does feel of its era, the golden age of classical Hollywood, with strong elements of Americana and a moral message running through its veins.
It’s a story about the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Aloysius “Guffy” McGovern (Paul Douglas), a vicious and bitter man, guaranteed to allow any patrons sitting behind either first or third base to clearly overhear a nine inning long stream of quite externalized rage. Now, this has become even more apparent as the Pirates slog through a particularly disappointing season, noticed by reporter Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh), the writer of the “household hints” column now filling the baseball spot. After experiencing Guffy’s demeanor firsthand at a steakhouse, she’s more intrigued than ever to learn more.
One night, following a game, Guffy walks along the darkened field to hear from an angel who was a baseball player on Earth (James Whitmore). He says that if Guffy discontinues his abrasive behavior, he and other angels will work to improve the team’s fortunes. It certainly works, but Guffy is the only one of two people that is aware of the presence of the angels (the other is Bridget (Donna Corcoran) a girl at the local Catholic orphanage who worries the nuns with such claims during a trip with the other children). Due to a combination of this and the required and sudden change in behavior, questions are quickly raised of Guffy’s health and suitability to coach, which won’t be easily dismissed.
Angels in the Outfield has been cited as a classic and quintessential baseball film, but why? It contains a good message, that good deeds and actions are ultimately rewarding, but there’s nothing particularly compelling about its execution. Perhaps it came at the right time, during the post-War period of patriotism and rational love of country, and that endearment led to an embracement of obvious American symbols, like baseball. People developed fond impressions of such an idea, and the legacy of Angels in the Outfield carried on through the coming generations through nostalgia, both firsthand and inherited. While I’m not trying to say this is a bad film (not by a mile), it’s just peculiar that nothing within this movie calls out for specific memorization or recognition.
This is still a movie with a decently compelling screenplay, with interesting characters, even though Douglas’ Guffy is the one with the lion’s share of the film’s character development. Janet Leigh is good as Jennifer, a performance arriving during a vital period in the development in her career, which built up to an infamous encounter in a shower at the Bates Motel nine years later. Keenan Wynn portrays a cynical radio broadcaster with a hatred for Guffy with a suitable amount of efficiency, and Donna Corcoran is alright as Bridget, a character needed both for exposition and emotional incentive for the main characters.
Angels in the Outfield is nothing too special, which I suspect is why it’s regarded as being so special. It’s biggest asset is its unpretentiousness, but it’s so unpretentious that it leaks in to an unimportance, and as much as I despise linking the two ideologies, they appear to be connected here. My personal definition of unpretentiousness is being down to earth and accessible, and unimportance being a lack of a driving nature for itself. Angels in the Outfield goes on for 99 minutes by just existing, and I was never able to establish a connection with it, but just see it as barely passable and wholly unmemorable.