February 6 - Death on the Diamond
Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.
Most sports films have credibility issues. Some of the liberties taken with both
truth and reality have worked make these films memorable. We know that angels
do not exist, but who’s to argue with the beauty of the story of “Angels in the
Outfield”. Had Professor Ray Milland doctored up a baseball with a wood
repelling chemical in a real game as he did in “It Happens Every Spring”, he
would have been thrown out of baseball (in our modern era he would have been
allowed to pitch pending an appeal), instead of being lauded as a hero.
These are fantasies. And if you accept these stories as such, you will love those
types of films for what they are. If you can’t accept that premise, don’t bother to
watch (stay away from “Miracle on 34th Street”, as well).
Baseball films had been made before, including a couple of silents starring Babe Ruth. Joe E.
Brown made some baseball films for Warner Bros. These were comedies as well and thus, the
events that took place that could be termed as fantasy.
In 1934 MGM made a baseball film. It was called “Death on the Diamond”. It was as the title implies
a murder mystery, not a comedy. But the plot line and the circumstances that make up this film are
so bombastic that you laugh harder than you would at a baseball comedy like “Rhubarb”, another Ray
Milland starrer about a cat that inherits a baseball team.
The story starts out sensibly enough. The owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, a team on the brink of
poverty, signs a hot shot young pitcher who pitches pickup lines at the owner’s daughter with the
same velocity as his fastball. The Cards must win the pennant to earn enough money to pay off the
owner’s debts (remember this is 1934). Mobsters want the team to lose so they can take over the
team. And to top things off, many of the top players on the team are mysteriously murdered...during
Leave it to the hotshot pitcher, to solve the mystery while pitching the last game of the season. He
stops the game while he corners the murderer in the locker room, nearly getting killed himself. He
then comes back out to the mound, finishes the inning, and if you can believe it, hits the game
winning home run. The Cardinals are saved. And what a surprise, the hot shot pitcher marries the
boss’s daughter (there is no mention as to how the team was sold to the Busch Brewery).
Robert Young, pre-pre-Jim Anderson days, plays Larry Kelly, the pitcher and hero of the piece. To his
credit he actually looks like a pitcher in his baseball pitching scenes. He also pitches woo to Madge
Evans who plays the love interest (a little trivia about the beautiful and talented Miss Evans, she was
the godmother to popular film critic and loyal Red Sox fan, Jeffrey Lyons). David Landau, you may
remember him as the villain in the Marx Brothers classic “Horse Feathers”, plays the owner of the
The supporting cast includes Nat Pendleton as a catcher on the Cardinals, Paul Kelly as a
sportswriter, Ted Healy (who a short time later would team up with a comedy trio named “The Three
Stooges”) as an umpire and the team Bat Boy is played by Mickey Rooney.
If you look fast you’ll spot Walter Brennan as a hot dog vendor, Bruce Bennett as a man on a ticket
line and Dennis O’Keefe as radio announcer.
“Field of Dreams”, it’s not, but if you want to see something different in a baseball movie, check this