Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Overlooked Movies: Kill the Umpire -- William Bendix

"Kill the umpire!" was a familiar cry at baseball games long ago.  Now, not so much.  As we've often noted, times have changed.

When I was a kid, I loved baseball.  I loved playing baseball, I loved collecting baseball cards, I loved listening to the "Game of the Day" called by Big Al Helfer on the Mutual Network.  And of course I loved baseball movies.  This was one of my favorites.  When I saw it, little did I know that it was directed by the same guy (Lloyd Bacon) who did The Good Humor Man, another big favorite of mine from the same era.  It's easy to see now that they're very much alike, and I'm sure that tells you something about my sense of humor.  Give me mugging and slapstick, and I'm there.

William Bendix plays Bill Johnson (though he might as well be named Chester A. Riley), a former ballplayer who now can't keep a job because he's always going to games instead of to work.  He hates umpires, but his father-in-law, a former umpire, suggests that he go to umpire school, Johnson gives in because his wife threatens to leave him unless he goes.  On the day he's umpiring a big game for the scouts, he uses some eye drops that cause him to see everything twice (could Joseph Heller have seen this movie?), so he calls everything twice, becoming known as "Two-Call" Johnson.  The scouts are impressed, and he's hired for the notoriously rowdy Texas League, where he's shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that the crowds hate him.

When you see some of the things Bendix goes through, you won't be surprised to learn that Frank Tashlin wrote the script.  As in The Good Humor Man, there's a great chase scene.  The movie's available on DVD as a part of a double feature.


Librarian D.O.A. said...

I don't recall the movie as well as you do but I'm sure I've seen it. I always loved William Bendix in anything.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband speaks of his Dad getting inordinately angry at umpires.

Todd Mason said...

As a Cub Scout leaguer, I got angry at umpires. (Most RBI in my year.) And I definitely remember catching this on WSBK-TV in Boston (also in a double feature), then suffering a rained out Red Sox game, as a youngster...I would've enjoyed the game less (playing was always more fun than watching).