Warner Home Video presents
Damn Yankees (1958)
"Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets!"- Lola (Gwen Verdon)
Stars: Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston
Other Stars: Jean Stapleton, Russ Brown, Shannon Bolin
Director: George Abbott, Stanley Donen
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:50m:17s
Release Date: 2004-10-12
DVD ReviewBack in October, when the New York Yankees led the Boston Red Sox by what seemed like an insurmountable three-games-to-none lead in the American League Championship Series, the suits at Warner Home Video were undoubtedly dancing with glee. Such excitement in Hollywood might seem strange, considering Tinseltown's local teams (the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels) had already been eliminated from baseball's postseason, but Warner execs possessed a vested interest in the outcome of the Yankees-Red Sox rumble. You see, if the Bronx Bombers succeeded in perpetuating that nasty curse on their hard-luck archrivals, suicidal Boston fans surely would seek solace—and some inspiration—by purchasing Warner's new DVD release of Damn Yankees.
Of course, as we all know, the series didn't quite pan out as Warner executives might have wished, but Damn Yankees still brings a smile to pinstripe haters and musical lovers nationwide. After all, fans of any sport can relate to the frustration middle-aged Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) feels as he watches his beloved Washington Senators lose year after year to those damn Yankees. But when Joe cries out to the heavens, "One long ball hitter, that's what we need! I'd sell my soul for one long ball hitter," he never imagines the grand master of hell suddenly appearing on his front porch to close the deal. The Devil, disguised as the suave Applegate (Ray Walston), not only promises to deliver a slugger to the Senators, but offers Joe the role. A former big league prospect himself, Joe can't resist the temptation, and abandons his beloved wife Meg (Shannon Bolin) to pursue his dream. And in the blink of an eye, the graying Joe Boyd becomes the youthful Joe Hardy in the form of blonde hunk Tab Hunter.
Joe provides the spark the Senators have long craved, and soars from "pinch-hitter to idol of the nation" in only a month. Better still, the team embarks on a winning streak and begins closing in on the first-place Yankees. But Joe misses Meg, and Applegate frets his red-hot hitter might exercise the escape clause in their agreement and return to his long-suffering wife. So Applegate enlists the services of his sultry cohort Lola (Gwen Verdon)—the ultimate femme fatale—to seduce Joe and make him abandon any thoughts of hearth and home.
Although this spirited George Abbott-Stanley Donen adaptation of the Broadway smash will never rank as one of Hollywood's greatest musicals (and pales a bit when compared to the duo's version of The Pajama Game, produced a year earlier), Damn Yankees makes a faithful transition from stage to screen, flaunting irresistible charm, boundless energy, and loads of devilish wit. A top-flight score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, featuring such memorable tunes as (You Gotta Have) Heart, Whatever Lola Wants, Two Lost Souls, and Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo, and choreography by the great Bob Fosse (who also appears in a specialty number) add even more ebullience to the package.
And putting it all over with tremendous style is the irrepressible Gwen Verdon, who created the role of Lola on Broadway. We may have to wait 45 minutes for her to appear, but once she does, Verdon grabs the musical's reins and gallops off with the picture. Sadly, Damn Yankees would be Verdon's only Hollywood musical, but she makes the most of the opportunity, and we're lucky to have this celluloid memento of her supremely unique talent. Whether trading barbs with Walston, slinkily tempting Hunter, or partnering future husband Fosse in the mambo-infused Who's Got the Pain?, the brassy redhead steals focus in every scene.
Walston, who also reprises his stage role, makes a fine foil, and seems to relish playing the quintessential heavy. Although he would later sprout antennae for My Favorite Martian, he dons devil horns here and wears them well. His arched eyebrows and maniacal grins add just a touch of cartoon lunacy to his interpretation, and help make Walston Hollywood's most lovably malevolent Lucifer.
Of course, one might properly surmise Hunter would be the film's weak link, but the man once dubbed "The Sigh Guy" projects a winsome sweetness and genuine sincerity that beautifully complements the boisterous Verdon. Though he may be better remembered for his gimmicky first name, cover boy looks, and chiseled physique than any acting ability, Hunter files his finest performance in Damn Yankees, and his earnest portrayal holds the movie together.
Thankfully, the Red Sox have proven satanic intervention is no longer necessary to beat those damn Yankees, but this high-spirited musical almost makes us wish it was. (I said almost!) Baseball enthusiasts will get a special kick out of this tuneful romp, yet even non-fans will find themselves bewitched by Verdon's spell. And though the film itself may not hit a homerun, it almost always comes through in the clutch.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The Damn Yankees transfer is presented in its original widescreen ratio and sports exceptional color saturation. Hues are rich and lustrous, adding extra effervescence to the musical numbers, and lending the overall film a beautiful sheen. The bright red accents on Walston's costumes—socks, ties, carnations—never bleed, and other splashes of color possesses equal stability. Slight grain preserves the movie's cinematic feel, and only minimal speckling dots the print. Contrast is excellent, fleshtones look natural, and any digital doctoring escapes notice.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Sadly, only a monaural track is included, and the audio sounds a bit flat as a result. The songs don't possess the dynamic fidelity one expects and desires, although dialogue is easily understandable and no imperfections intrude.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: On their classic discs, Warner has so often spoiled us in the extras department, a barebones release is a jarring anomaly. What, no featurette? No audio commentary? No Looney Tunes cartoon? At least the studio throws in the original trailer… Although the lack of supplements is disappointing, it's tough to take Warner to task when they usually shower fans with goodies.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA winning sports musical, Damn Yankees scores with fine songs, solid performances, and a wickedly clever twist on the Faustian legend. It also provides priceless cinematic evidence of Gwen Verdon's amazing talent. Musical fans and Yankee-haters will definitely want to add this disc to their collection, while those breathlessly anticipating spring training will discover this buoyant film eases the interminable wait.
David Krauss 2004-11-19