Monday, July 5, 2010

Olivia Roots for the Home Team

Though A Midsummer Night's Dream was actually Olivia de Havilland first film role, the first movie in which she was actually appeared was a comedy. The movie - Alibi Ike, a vehicle for comedian Joe E. Brown, in which Brown plays Frank X. Farrell, a big-league baseball player (for the Chicago Cubs, no less!) who is unable to tell a straight story.  Whatever happens, Frank has to make up some kind of lame story to excuse his behavior (thus, the title and his nickname on the team).  He meets and falls in love with the sister-in-law of the team's manager (Dolly Stevens, played by Olivia).  Of course, there is eventually conflict between them (because of Frank's inability to face up to ANYTHING in public), and a threat to our hero from some gamblers who want him to throw the big game.

Olivia doesn't get to do much in this film; it is Joe E. Brown's vehicle (who was at the peak of his popularity at this point). However, she does have one really good scene - she overhears Frank (who has just proposed to her) denying their engagement, and saying that she was merely an annoyance to him.  Her rage and hurt are done beautifully. You can see the pain in her eyes as she listens to Frank being an idiot. 
We spent some time as well discussing Joe E. Brown. No, this is not a movie to remember, but ultimately, you can see how likeable Joe E. Brown was.  This film points out WHY he was so effective many years later in Some Like it Hot.  Brown is an endearing man.  You like him, in spite of all the nonsense.  Thus, in the 50s, Billy Wilder was able to make Daphne's (Jack Lemmon) gold-digging humorous.  Brown's affection and wide-eyed "Well, nobody's perfect" make everything Daphne and Josephine do all right.  And, an interesting piece of trivia here, Brown played professional baseball for a time, worked as a broadcaster for the Yankees in the 1950's, and was the first president of PONY League Baseball and Softball.  His love for the game (he would make two more baseball-related films) ran deep.

In this trailer, you can catch a glimpse of Ms. de Havilland - as we mentioned, she is not the star in this film:

Join us again next week for an early swashbuckler.

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