America's pastime gets a Faustian twist in this 1958 studio musical, which recounts the ballpark bargain struck by an aging Washington Senators fan obsessed with helping his team trump the Yanks. With echoes of the real-life 1919 Shoeless Joe Jackson scandal, and tart observations on the tradeoffs between youth and experience, Damn Yankees fuses a classic dramatic dilemma with musical comedy to often charming effect.
In transferring George Abbott's Broadway hit to the screen, codirectors Abbott and Stanley Donen are smart enough to retain Richard Adler and Jerry Ross's clever songs, Bob Fosse's sizzling choreography (with Fosse himself on camera for the sultry mambo number), and stars Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, reprising their devilish turns as the Horned One himself, Mr. Applegate, and his temptress, Lola. Where the team strikes out, unfortunately, is in their concession to marquee politics, handing the pivotal role of Joe Hardy to handsome, vapid, celluloid heartthrob Tab Hunter, whose thin voice and unsteady screen presence argue that he should have stayed in the dugout.
Walston is reliably spry and acerbic as the canny archangel, and Verdon, in one of her rare starring screen turns, confirms the comedic timing and sexy, muscular grace that made her a deserved draw in subsequent stage hits including another Fosse triumph, Sweet Charity. With her combination of feline grace and alternately steely, flirtatious femininity, Verdon makes you believe her when she sings, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." -Amazon.com
61* is an endearing ode to the baseball days of yore when the press was the enemy, salaries were in check, and breaking records with bat and glove took on Ruthian proportions. In 1961 baseball expanded its season from 154 games to 162, allowing weaker pitching into the major leagues and two New York Yankees teammates--the colorless Roger Maris and golden boy Mickey Mantle--to make an assault on the sport's ultimate record: Babe Ruth's 60 home runs. To add to the stew, baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced any record set in the last eight games of the season wouldn't count toward the official record; records had to be achieved in 154 games.
Director Billy Crystal guarantees success for his movie in the perfect casting of the leads. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan's religious sniper) is deft as Maris, and Thomas Jane is a perfect Mantle, a superman in a Yankee uniform. Despite the differences between family man Maris and hard-living Mantle, they form a rewarding friendship amid the media and fan frenzy. The shy Maris took the brunt of the storm, even facing boo-birds in his home stadium. Crystal and first-time writer Hank Steinberg keep the pace moving quickly between the field, the locker room, the press box, and the home front. The film never tries to dazzle with more than the facts (and it softens Mantle up a bit), yet it belongs on the short list of grand baseball movies. -Amazon.com