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It Happens Every Spring (1949)
Vernon Simpson (Ray Milland) is a graduate student at a Midwestern university with two seemingly unrelated problems in his life. The first is that he hasn't completed his doctorate in chemistry yet and so isn't qualified for any of the positions, in the academy or in business, that would enable him to marry and support his girlfriend, Deborah Greenleaf (Jean Peters), who just happens to be the dean's daughter. The second is that starting in April and lasting into October he becomes oddly preoccupied and suffers from a strange tendency toward absent-mindedness--it happens every spring. That span of months, of course, coincides with baseball season and Vernon, it turns out, is a die-hard fan of the St. Louis club, which just needs pitching help this season in order to be a contender. So even as Vernon struggles to make his experiments work and to finish his thesis, he hangs on every pitch of every game, oblivious to all around him, including his students and Deborah.
But then the hand of fate intervenes and solves all of Vernon's problems--well, kinda. A baseball comes flying in through his laboratory window from the nearby practice field and, though it irreparably damages all his hard work, it quite accidentally creates an entirely new and uniquely valuable formula. This remarkable substance, of which Vernon is only able to salvage one panfull, makes the baseball that landed in it avoid wood. The next morning Vernon tests his discovery on the practice field and finds that his pitches are indeed unhittable (note that his batting practice catcher is Alan Hale, Jr.--The Skipper), swerving around and hopping over the wooden bats.
Hastily asking a leave of absence from Dean Greenleaf, Vernon hops a train to St. Louis and presents himself to the club's incredulous manager and the initially hostile owner demanding $1,000 for each of the thirty wins he guarantees. Soon Vernon, calling himself King Kelly so that Deborah's sports-hating father won't know how he's earning a living, is pitching St. Louis to victory after victory. Veteran catcher Monk Lanigan (Paul Douglas) is put in charge of the flaky but valuable phenom and together they lead the team to the World Series.
Entirely predictable zaniness follows every step of the way, but it's
all great fun. Milland is surprisingly daffy and Paul Douglas is
great. The special effects are joyously primitive. The fact
that Vernon is cheating is a little disturbing--though a strangely common
theme of baseball movies from Angels in the Outfield to Damn
Yankees to The Natural--but in the end he is inevitably required
to rely on himself, rather than weird science. It remains inexplicable
that even a minor baseball movie like this one can be so engaging and entertaining,
while other sports (with the exception of boxing) produce almost no good
movies. I've no more explanation for this phenomenon than Vernon
evers offers for his formula, but this film proves it true once again.
Watch it every spring.
Recommended Ray Milland films :
Recommended films by Lloyd Bacon :