With the beginning of the baseball season last week, I found myself watching a baseball film. Not sure why, these days I have little interest in baseball, and in sports in general. Growing up, I was a rabid Yankees fan. Mickey Mantle was my idol, as he was for many other kids. I watched football (Giants) and basketball (the Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave Debusschere Knicks). However, somewhere along the way I lost interest in sports; found too many other things I rather spend my time doing.
I grew up in Brooklyn, but not in the Flatbush section. As I said, I was a Yankee fan and not a Dodger fan. That in itself was sacrilegious in Brooklyn, but hey, what the hell, I didn’t care the Yanks had The Mick! It Happened in Flatbush never states that the team is the Brooklyn Dodgers; their uniforms only read Brooklyn and the Dodgers name is never seen or mentioned. I assume this was due to trademark restrictions. That said, we see stock shots of Brooklyn, a crowded Ebbets Field and rowdy, out of control fans the Brooklyn Bums were well known for back in those days.
It Happened in Flatbush is the standard sort B film that played backup to the first run feature. It’s cheaply produced and once you left the theater, forgettable. That is probably true everywhere but Brooklyn. Remember, this was released in 1942. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. Los Angeles was still a long way off.
Here we have Lloyd Nolan as Frank “Butterfingers” Maguire an over the hill ballplayer who made one bad play during an important pennant game, and the merciless Brooklyn fans never forgave him christening him with the nickname “Butterfingers.” That was seven years ago. For this grievous sin, he was exiled to a minor league team, the Clovertown Cougars, somewhere in the boonies of Middle America.
The Brooklyn team now needs a new manager, the former one was let go, and Mac the team’s elderly owner wants Maguire back against the advice of her General Manager, an irascible William Frawley and everyone else. Mac flies out to Middle America, barges into the team’s dressing and lures our fallen hero back. Unfortunately, for Maguire and the viewers, Mac dies only days later just before Nolan is scheduled to start his new job.
With Mac gone (she did officially sign him to a contract, so he still got the job) the team is now run by a group of owners led by Mac’s niece, Kathryn Baker, the beautiful Carol Landis. She has no interest in baseball and no interest Maguire, at least at first. Will the team be sold?
The new manager is tough on his players, but with the acquisition of some top players the team starts winning and is on its way to toward the World Series for the first time in years. Kathryn may not like baseball, but the team is now making money, and she likes that. She also has come around to liking Maguire.
In the hierarchy of baseball films, It Happened in Flatbush will not rank very high. No one is going to rate Pride of the Yankees, Fear Strikes Out, The Pride of St. Louis, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame or any number of films as inferior to this production. The brightest spot is Sara Allgood who plays Mac, the team’s spunky owner who brings Maguire back to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, her role is all too brief and is gone too soon. The other significant members of the cast are fine, but they do not have much to work with; it’s like the screenwriters punched the script out during a quick lunch break. For some older Brooklynites who remember the Dodgers and Ebbets Field, It Happened in Flatbush may bring back some memories. For most, it is at best a pleasant timewaster.