Monday, July 12, 2010

Young Olivia de Havilland

I mentioned quite some time back that the first released movie with Olivia de Havilland in the cast was 1935's Alibi Ike. (It wasn't the first made; that was A Midsummer Night's Dream, which got held up in the editing process until after the quickie Alibi Ike was released.) Tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM ET on TCM is your opportunity to watch Alibi Ike.

Joe E. Brown is the star, playing Frank Farrell, a phenom baseball player who gets the nickname "Alibi Ike" because he's constantly making up phony alibis to try to get himself out of trouble -- although, in fact, the alibis generally wind up getting him in bigger trouble. His talent catches the eye of Cap (William Frawley), a coach for the Chicago Cubs, who brings him in for a trial and eventually gets him a spot on the team. Frank's teammates not only make fun of him as "Alibi Ike"; they razz him for falling in love with Dolly (de Havilland), who is the sister-in-law of Cap. Frank, of course, lies about being in love with her, which angers Dolly, since she thinks he's serious when he tells them that, and assumes this means he's been leading her on.

Frank's got other problems; this time, with gamblers who try to force him to throw games. The Black Sox scandal had only been 15 years earlier at the time this movie was made, so the influence of gambling in baseball would have been fairly fresh in the minds of moviegoers of the time. Eventually, Frank is able to save the day, win the pennant for the Cubs, and get the girl at the end.

To be honest, Alibi Ike isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't care all that much for baseball pictures, and I'm always uncomfortable with the "comedy of lies", wherein much of the comedy comes from the fact that the protagnist is afraid to tell the truth, only to have the lie backfire and cause more problems. However, Alibi Ike is a reasonably representative Joe E. Brown movie, showing him at the height of his popularity in the 1930s. (Brown, of course, is well known for having gone on to play the wealthy old man in Some Like it Hot who winds up with Jack Lemmon.) Frawley is fine, de Havilland is lovely even if she doesn't have much to do, and fans of I Love Lucy may enjoy seeing some of his earlier movie work. Also, those who enjoy baseball movies might find this one a kick. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, though, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing.

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