“Vanguard” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
Most sports fans prove how dedicated they are by buying season tickets, special cable packages, or multiple clothing articles with their team’s logo on it. In “Damn Yankees,” George Abbott and Stanley Donen’s 1958 movie of the Broadway musical, Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is such a huge fan of the Washington Senators that he makes a pact with the Devil (Ray Walston) to help his team win the league pennant. Not even the World Series championship, just the pennant—and only for one season. That’s dedication.
To accomplish this goal, the Devil transforms the older, gray-haired, former baseball player Joe Boyd into the young, virile, blonde-haired Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter). The plan is to get Joe on the team, and with the Devil’s help, win the pennant. However, as a businessman, Joe is unsure about the deal. He convinces the Devil to provide him with an escape clause. The Devil uncharacteristically agrees, and this clause becomes the central conflict of “Damn Yankees.”
The portrayal of the Devil is a fun one, as he is of course is in disguise. No tail or pitchfork here. He presents himself as the kindly Mr. Applegate, who is there to help. There is, however, a sinister undertone in Walston’s performance that belies his character’s true intentions, though they are never explicitly stated. Or if that’s too subtle, the shocking red tie and red socks are a good giveaway. As the plot of “Damn Yankees” moves along, more of Applegate’s evil is revealed. He even gets a solo song in which he recalls all the great times he had being a part of the most terrible events in history.
The memorable musical numbers belong to Lola (Gwen Verdon), Applegate’s assistant. Her specialty is seduction. Once Applegate gets nervous that he’s not going to get what he wants from the deal with Joe, he asks her to intervene. Her first big number is “A Little Brains, a Little Talent,” in which she brags about how easy it is for her to seduce a man. This is shortly followed by the showstopping centerpiece of “Damn Yankees,” called “Whatever Lola Wants.” Not only is it a catchy song, but Verdon’s seductive strip tease dance number, choreographed by Broadway legend Bob Fosse, is a highlight. She stops re-robing just in time for the movie to not lose its censorship board seal of approval.
A sentence or two should written about Applegate’s ultimate plan. Once he fears that Joe will use his escape clause, he devises something far more insidious in which he plays a wicked mind game involving false expectations and crushing people’s hopes. While “Damn Yankees” is a fun musical and light entertainment, taking a few moments to mull over how things will turn out if the Devil succeeds is a bit sobering. This story’s ending may be a bit pat and way too easy, but I will take it over the darker alternative. Buy it.
“Vanguard,” about a security company that is the last hope of survival for an accountant after he is targeted by the world’s deadliest mercenary organization, starring Jackie Chan; and “The Palindromists,” documentary delving into the world of palindromes–words and phrases that read the same backwards and forwards.