Saturday, August 28, 2004

Cannibals Munchin' A Missionary Luncheon

I see Damn Yankees is coming out on DVD this October, just in time for the playoffs. The Broadway show was from the same people as the hit show The Pajama Game, and both Pajama Game and Damn Yankees were filmed with virtually the entire Broadway casts, and with the show's director, George Abbott, co-directing with movie-musical expert Stanley Donen. Damn Yankees is arguably even better-suited to the screen than its predecessor -- in a movie, you can show more of the baseball playing -- but the movie has two problems: one, the lone movie actor in the cast, Tab Hunter, is kind of a dud, and two ballads ("A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near To You") had to be cut because he couldn't do justice to them. (Another song, "The Game," where the players describe their struggle to abstain from sex and keep their minds on baseball, was also cut, either because it couldn't get past the censors, or because the producers were trying to keep the film under two hours, or both.) And second, it has that kind of drab look that, as I've mentioned before, infects a lot of Warner Brothers' stage-to-screen adaptation of the late '50s, as if they were adjusting to the rise of TV by making their movies look like slightly-more-expensive TV shows. The Pajama Game has that drab look too, but it has somewhat more imaginative camerawork, and the sole non-Broadway actor in Pajama Game, Doris Day, is several rungs above Tab Hunter.

Still, Damn Yankees remains one of the most enjoyable baseball movies ever made, and of course it preserves a lot of great performances, notably Gwen Verdon as Lola and Ray Walston as Mr. Applegate. Best of all it preserves Bob Fosse's choreography, from the days when his choreographic portfolio consisted of "shuffle, snap, and bend over" rather than just "shuffle and snap." No extras, but the press release says that it's been fully restored for the DVD release, unlike the DVD of Pajama Game.

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