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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 78 Minutes/84 Minutes
• Fuck you
A doubleheader harkening back to a kinder, gentler time in the world of baseball: back when the sport still wasn’t fully integrated and instead of steroids the players threw games to appease gamblers.
Safe at Home: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Bryan Russell, William Frawley
Kill the Umpire: William Bendix, Una Merkel, William Frawley
The O’Malley’s strict ‘no bottoms’ policy came as something of a shock to young Timmy.
Just in time for the beginning of the 2007-08 baseball season Warner Brothers releases a double feature with two ‘classic’ (in terms of age) baseball movies from their vault. In Kill the Umpire, Bill (William Bendix) Johnson plays a lifelong baseball devotee (former player, at that) who continually loses jobs due to his obsession with listening to/watching/attending baseball games. In a last ditch attempt to combine his work with his passion, his father in law (Ray Collins, a classic ‘Holy shit, that guy’s in everything!’ actor) gets him an opportunity to train to be an umpire, leading to a bevy of setpieces and sight-gags of umpiring run amuck. In Safe at Home, young Hutch Lawton lives on a boat with his dad in Florida where his favorite team in the whole world, the New York Yankees, are practicing during spring training. A run-in with a loud-mouthed schoolmate results in Hutch telling a white lie, namely that he and his father personally know Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The situation becomes exacerbated (What does that mean?) when Hutch runs away from home to the Yankees spring training facilities to try and meet with Maris and Mantle to convince them to come back with him to meet his little league team. Slight tomfoolery ensues.
The gyroball is so fucking awesome even cameras can’t get a read on it.
Just to get this out of the way from the get-go, let it be known that I love baseball. It isn’t my favorite sport (that goes to basketball), or the most dramatic (football tends to have that ‘every down counts’ tension that can keep one glued) but it has a pace and aesthetic all its own (any sport that caters to both mathematicians and aesthetes has to have something going for it). That said, I’m probably more conditioned to enjoy these movies than some, and even with that in mind, I can’t full-heartedly recommend this two-fer to anybody, fans of cinema and baseball alike.
The first picture up to bat, Kill the Umpire, is easily the best of the two and has an anarchic spirit and a clear understanding of the love/hate dichotomy fans have with the sport of baseball that helps carry it through some it’s duller moments. On the bright side, you have Frank Tashlin (he of Tashlin Toons fame) as the writer which leads to the comedy being extremely broad and the setpieces being extremely cartoonish and ridiculous which only helps to elevate the material above the limp and tepid pacing of the second of the two films. Even though a lot of the humor falls flat, there’s an energy to the piece that propels it beyond its weaker moments and makes it an overall entertaining piece of fluff. Bendix mugs his way through the film admirably and even allows room for a few character moments where he realizes the value of order in the sport of baseball as his respect for umpires grows. It’s the roid-raging, happy-go-lucky Barry Bonds to Safe at Home’s Moises Alou, replete with piss on hands.
One must keep in mind that the plastic surgery industry was still in it’s infant stages in the 50’s.
Safe at Home is essentially a Leave it to Beaver episode stretched out to feature length (it seriously feels like a recycled episode of a TV show with it’s minimal conflict and little lesson the boy learns at the end), and one gets the feeling it exists only because the one-two punch of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were enough to get people into the theaters back in their heyday. The boy’s wide-eyed awe at the players and the big-league ballparks is something that allows for some nice moments but it’s not the type of movie I’d ever feel compelled to revisit unless I was jonesing for some professional athletes giving stilted line deliveries.
Addendum: I tried like hell to find an analog to the usage of Mantle/Maris in Safe at Home that could be released in our current movie environment (although I suspect a Jeter/A-Rod picture could be entertaining in the way that couples who are sick of each other always tend to be), but there isn’t any sort of partnership or even two standout baseball stars that could be reason enough to have a film based around their participation in it in this day and age. However, my idea for a raucous road trip comedy where a little boy accidentally tags along with Manny Ramirez and Julian Tavarez for a weekend of spring training boozing and cavorting still stands for any studio execs reading this.
"Hey Mickey, what’s that poking in my-"
"Just my cup, Hutch."
The cover art is pretty cheesy, but it’s suitable when you consider the material it’s representing. They also do a pretty good job of encapsulating the movies as a whole with the two images for each film. The transfers don’t have Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the audio bats a decent cleanup, but in terms of extras be ready to take one off the face like Matt Clement because you’re getting a shitload of nothing.
Safe at Home: 4.8 out of 10
Kill the Umpire: 6.4 out of 10
DVD overall: 5.2 out of 10