Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Rhubarb'



Last week I wrote about angels in the outfield. This week it’s a cat in the owners box.

“Rhubarb” is another 1951 baseball film, a comedy about an eccentric millionaire who leaves his fortune – and ownership of a major league team – to his cat, Rhubarb. I had never seen this one, but I’m a sucker for films about smart animals with lovably cantankerous owners.

And that owner is Thaddeus J. Banner, played by the wonderful Gene Lockhart. Banner is fixated on a mangy yet feisty cat that steals golf balls at the local golf course. He must have him and orders Eric (Ray Milland), the PR man for his baseball team, the Brooklyn Loons, to catch him.

Eric eventually traps the wild animal, and Banner gives it a home and a name – Rhubarb. In addition to being a plant, “rhubarb” is slang for a baseball altercation (first used on-air by Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber in 1943). Banner and Rhubarb become best friends, a situation that does not sit well with Banner’s exercise-obsessed daughter, Myra (Elsie Holmes).



When Banner dies, he leaves much of his fortune to Rhubarb, who is left in the care of Eric. Myra is enraged and vows revenge. Meanwhile, Eric is trying to marry Polly (Jan Sterling), daughter of the baseball team’s manager, Len (William Frawley). Unfortunately, Polly discovers she’s allergic to cats.

Players for the struggling Loons are not happy with being owned by a cat. They threaten a boycott by feigning various maladies and conditions. But Eric slyly convinces them that Rhubarb will bring them luck. Soon the team is winning, and Rhubarb is the toast of Brooklyn, although all is not well with the scheming Myra, bookies who are loosing a fortune and Polly’s allergy.

The film is based upon a 1946 book by H. Allen Smith, which was so popular that Smith wrote two sequels. Orangey, the film’s feline star, is the only animal to win two Patsy Awards for this film, his cinematic debut, and for playing Cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” a decade later. Orangey also appeared as Minerva the Cat on the “Our Miss Brooks” TV show.



 Orangey may be the star, but the human actors are a solid ensemble. Milland is always a dependable player and a relaxed comedian, whether he’s trying to catch a cat or run a baseball team. Sterling is feisty and fun, and Lockhart is always a delight. Plus there’s a fun cameo at the end that should please classic movie lovers.

Director Arthur Lubin was known for light comedies, having directed a number of Abbott and Costello’s biggest comedy hits for Universal. He also did well with animals of all sorts, directing the Francis the Talking Mule series and developing “Mister Ed” for TV. Lubin’s most prestigious work was the 1943 remake of “Phantom of the Opera.”

“Rhubarb” offers no surprises. It’s breezy and fun and a great way to get into baseball spirit.

8 comments:

  1. I have never seen this classic baseball film, but it sounds like fun.. I also, love the name.. 'Rhubarb'.

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    1. It's light and fun. No great shakes but entertaining, so check it out!

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  2. Sounds most enjoyable. I always thought Kevin Costner was King of the Baseball Movies, but between this and "It Happens Every Spring" Ray Milland could be the Crown Prince of Baseball Movies. Quite an accomplishment for a Welshman.

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  3. "Breezy and fun" is an apt description for RHUBARB. THE 1950s was a good decade for wealthy pets (YOU NEVER CAN TELL) and baseball comedies (the aforementioned IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING--a personal fave).

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    1. I wish I could adopt a wealthy pet ... any ideas where I can get one??

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  4. I've read the story, but have yet to cross paths with the movie. It sounds like just the thing for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

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    1. Sounds like a plan ... perhaps you could make a strawberry rhubarb pie to complement your afternoon viewing :)

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