A Fun Faust
I love when a movie made years ago is still fun to watch. The other day while at the library I saw the DVD of “Damn Yankees” and brought it home. It was the first Broadway show I had ever seen in a Broadway theater and so it is special to me. I remember seeing the film years ago but not much else about it but then it was made in 1958. Tab Hunter was quite a looked then (but not much of a dancer so his scenes opposite legendary hoofer Gwen Verdon are quite week—but then she would steal the spotlight from anyone).
“Damn Yankees” is quite simply delightful filled with great show stopping songs and Bob Fosse’s exuberant choreography and you even get to see him dance with his then wife, Vernon. The producers and directors of the film made a very wise choice to keep the original story and a lot of the original Broadway cast.
Here is a different kind of Faust story that is fun to watch. From book to Broadway to Hollywood, the Faustian adaptation has had more than its share of tellings and re-tellings but here we get baseball and the devil together. Joe is a suffering Washington Senators fan. He is a total average Joe and when he is offered a chance to trade his soul to the devilish Mr. Applegate (Ray Walston) in exchange for a shot at becoming the long-suffering team’s savior, he takes the offer, transforming into Joe Boyd (played by Tab Hunter), a small-town boy who bats his way into a walk-on spot on the Senators and a chance at wrestling the pennant away from the Yankees. However, Joe realizes there’s more to life than hitting home runs but Applegate tries to thwart him and keep their deal in tact.
“Damn Yankees” is full of energy and catchy songs. They all compliment the film nicely and add depth and comedy to a spin on a familiar tale. As a film, Bob Fosse’s choreography is fun and works well for the screen. While there are plenty of song and dance routines, there’s also lots of narrative. The result is a nice balance. The film’s most affecting aspect is its sentimentality. It is Americana as we see in the Boyd household with its comfy chairs and patterned wallpaper immediately evokes grandma’s house, at least for kids of my generation.
Tab Hunter has been much criticized for being the Hollywood no-talent crammed into a Broadway cast but even though he can’t dance he does admirably in the final Two Lost Souls number. He’s also a fine foil for Gwen Verdon’s Lola, a fiery redhead with a wonderfully corny ‘vamp’ number that makes fun of every seduction scene in history. The big winner in Damn Yankees is Ray Walston and his devil Mr. Applegate was his most famous role. Applegate gets all the good lines and best bits of business; audiences are immediately charmed by his red socks and laugh at his cracks about politicians and parking lot owners. Fans of “All in the Family” will love seeing Jean Stapleton in a supporting role as one of a pair of old-maid sisters. Everything she says is memorable.
It ends on a right emotional note and disappoints a lot of people who are expecting a finale musical number.