Of the four baseball movies I’ve reviewed, “It Happens Every Spring” is the one I had seen previously and, after another viewing, remains the best of the bunch.
There’s something comforting about watching a formula at work. This time it’s a semi-absent-minded professor helping a St. Louis team during the pennant race. Ray Milland plays Vernon Simpson, a college chemistry professor who is admired and respected, except when baseball season begins. Then he becomes distracted and obsessive about the national past-time, even to the point of turning on the radio during a class to listen to a game.
He’s in love with one of his students, Deborah Greenleaf (Jean Peters), and her father happens to be the college’s president (Ray Collins), who sees Vernon as a good catch for his daughter. (Frankly, this is unintentionally amusing as such antics today would probably get the professor fired.)
Vernon has been working on a formula for a company that wants a product that would keep insects away from wood. Unfortunately, an errant baseball from a nearby diamond crashes through the laboratory window, smashing the equipment. A distraught Vernon now believes his research chances are ruined, as well as his opportunity to marry Deborah.
However, a tray in a nearby sink catches some of the fluid from his experiment, as well as the baseball. When Vernon removes the baseball from the tray, it rolls across the counter and jumps away from anything made of wood. A shocked Vernon asks for – and is granted -- immediate leave from the college, with the excuse he’s taking a research opportunity at a nearby lab. Instead, he joins the St. Louis baseball team, in dire need of a pitcher. This allows him to test out this substance and fulfill his desire to play ball. Wanting to avoid scrutiny, he calls himself King Kelly and becomes a pitching sensation.
Once again there are few surprises, but there are few detours as well. Valentine Davies (“Miracle on 34th Street”) received an Oscar nomination for his straightforward story (co-written by Shirley Smith) that keeps the proceedings light and fun. Dependable veteran director Lloyd Bacon keeps everything moving briskly along, while Milland is his charming self. He was such an effective light comedian that when I see him in something more serious or as a villain, it reminds me of his great and perhaps overlooked versatility.
Interestingly enough, Milland and co-star Paul Douglas each starred in other baseball movies that I reviewed. Douglas was enjoying his major breakthrough in 1949, his first year in movies, and here he’s the lovable catcher who defends the mysteriously odd King Kelly. Peters is lovely in one of her early films, and the self-described tomboy seems most comfortable when she’s on the floor looking at newspaper photos of King Kelly to determine if it’s Vernon.
Check out “It Happens Every Spring.” In fact, check out all of the baseball movies I have reviewed so far. They will get you in the mood to cheer for your favorite team (unless you cheer for the Cubs, who once again are already a lost cause). Later this summer I will return with more baseball films, but next up is some love for Ginger Rogers.