movie review: Kill The Umpire (1950)

I’m going to skip the usual fake back & forth with Kill The Umpire (1950): it’s a postwar comedy aimed at little kids, and I watched it because it was about baseball. I saw clips of it on a youtuber video, you know the type: some guy talks about a topic he read an article or wikipedia entry on and then uses stock video footage, often the same clips, over and over. Clips from Kill The Umpire were included, I was intrigued, so I watched it, and here we are.

It took me a moment to realize the significance of the use of “Three Blind Mice” as the movie’s intro music: because umpires are accused of being blind. I thought it might’ve been because the filmmakers wanted to appeal to fans of The Three Stooges. But the running gags that get beaten to death also factor into the subplot of our hero Bill’s adventure from unemployment to being the most hated person in baseball.

Baseball is life, at least for Bill, an electrician in Florida who used to be baseball player in his younger days. Now he’s a father of two daughters, the elder of which is dating a baseball player. I think this is all minor league or independent teams, kinda like how wrestling was regional until WWE took over in the mid-80s. Anyway, Bill can’t hold down a job because he can’t control his impulse to see baseball games, where he drinks and yells at the ump. The teams he supports are never named, he just show up and starts yelling. His boss catches him at a game and he’s fired. And then after making a promise to his wife that he’ll never skip work at the next job he has to attend another baseball game, he gets fired again for going to a bar and getting drunk before resuming work on the phone lines at his new job.

Comedy ensues, of course. He gets fired again. His wife throws things at him. He’s enabled by everyone else, even his father-in-law, who covers for Bill with a lie about baseball tickets donated by Bill’s future son-in-law. Bill’s father-in-law offers a solution to Bill’s baseball addiction: become an umpire.

Bill goes to great lengths to ruin his chances at umpire school, and a slapstick montage ensues. He’s kicked out, for taking up so much time acting like a jerk and wasting the time of everyone who wants to be there, which I applaud. Did anyone have college classmates who kept showing up and kept acting like jerkfaces? Like, why? No one likes you.

Bill is about to hop on a train back home (how he was going to explain this to his wife would be an interesting plot point). He sees some kids playing baseball and making their own calls, and he injects himself into the game as ump so they can move the game along. This is Bill’s turnaround, he wants everyone to play honestly. No matter if you win or lose, and himself fulfilling the most important role of the umpire: moving the game along. So he goes back to the ump school and begs to be let back in. He sticks to it and gets hired to be part of an ump crew for a Texas league.

I forgot to mention, but who cares, that Bill has a roommate who swears by an eyedrop treatment that allows him to focus during a game. So Bill starts taking the eyedrops and he sees things in double and it’s not something that comes back as any sort of comeuppance. He just calls each play twice as a result and that becomes his umping style that gets him the gig. From there, we’re introduced to some mobsters who try to sneak some money to Bill to influence some upcoming games in their team’s favor. Bill is a loudmouth dummy but at least an honest one, and he alerts the league that someone is trying to bribe him. The mobsters chase him and stuff happens.

It’s implausible (i don’t mean the slapstick) and there’s no accountability for the damage Bill does in his various escapes from mobsters and public scrutiny, such as when he’s trying to sneak out of a hotel because there’s an angry mob after him, so he and his family fake a fire so he can escape. Oh, in one of these games, Bill made a controversial call and the catcher is knocked out by the mobster, and hospitalized, and Bill calls the game for crowd interference. When the catcher comes to, he comes clean about the play, but only after Bill’s convoluted escape from the hotel and mobsters to get to the next game.

Is it good? No. It’s occasionally funny, some of the jokes do land. Typical 50s humor about marriages and shirking work, lots of slapstick that pads out the film. I don’t think the mobsters are even introduced until more than halfway in the movie. Bill has a problem and must have done well enough up until this point to keep his house if he’s been fired from several jobs. Like how does he keep getting jobs with this track record? Why does everyone keep covering for him? It’s a screwball comedy, why do I have questions? I wanted to see where it’d lead to, I guess.

Bill is played by William Bendix. According to the wikipedia, he was a batboy for the Yankees until he brought Babe Ruth a bunch of hot dogs that Ruth gorged himself on and couldn’t play that day. Later, he’d play Babe Ruth in the biopic. He had a pretty long career and appeared in a few noir & crime movies that I’ll have to check out for future entries. The father-in-law is played by Ray Collins, who also had a long career, from Citizen Kane to playing Lt. Tragg on Perry Mason.

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