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Big Leaguer

Big Leaguer(1953)

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teaser Big Leaguer (1953)

Robert Aldrich was 34 when he was given the helm of his first movie, the baseball story The Big Leaguer (1954). Despite his youth, he had already witnessed some of the greatest directors of all time ply their craft, having worked as assistant director on Charles Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Jean Renoir's The Woman On The Beach (1947). However by the early 1950's Aldrich felt Hollywood was never going to let him direct his own film, so he left for New York and the world of early television. With a paucity of trained directors on the East Coast willing to dabble in the new technology, Aldrich's experience quickly put him in the driver's seat. There he directed seventeen episodes of The Doctor (1952-53). It was while working on this series that the opportunity to direct a feature film dropped in his lap.

Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, organized a filmmaking unit for finding new talent. With obvious nepotism, Mayer crafted this group out of the sons of the men who had helped him found MGM many years ago, even going so far as to dub them "The Sons Of The Pioneers." One was producer Harry Rapf’s son Matt Rapf who picked, as his first production, The Big Leaguer, a story set in the New York Giants' training camp in Florida. Five kids are among the many competing for a handful of contracts for the Giants' farm team, their first step towards the majors. Looking over them is John Lobert, the Giants' chief scout, driving the five through grueling tryouts to see if they have what it takes to succeed. The scout’s beautiful daughter, meanwhile, provides another reason for competition.

A former co-worker of Aldrich's, Herbert Baker, mentioned him to Rapf as a likely director for The Big Leaguer. Like many others with his background, Aldrich was looking for a break in film and had already proved his talent as a director in television. Plus, he was already on the East Coast where the film would be made. He got the nod and set off to the Giants' training camp in Melbourne, Florida to start work. Fourteen days were set aside for this modestly budgeted feature intended for the lower berth on a double bill.

Along with all the rookies, Aldrich got a major star on his first film - Edward G. Robinson, cast as the chief scout. Robinson's career had gone into decline since his halcyon days in the 1930's, mostly due to the "greylist." As opposed to the blacklist, the greylist was an even more insidious part of the anti-Communist hysteria of the early 1950's, being reserved for those who were suspected of having liberal sympathies despite having never been named. Since there was no real evidence, only suspicion, those on the greylist could not do anything to defend themselves. Robinson had tried to restart his film career in Europe, but failing that, he returned to America and roles in lower budgeted movies. Robinson might have been allowed to work, but this movie starring him was not even given an exhibition in Manhattan, the first time that had happened for a film featuring the actor in a lead role.

The Big Leaguer does show some examples of the directorial bravado to be seen in such later Aldrich classic as Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Those with a keen eye can also spot some great sports legends making cameo appearances in the film such as All-Star pitcher Carl Hubbell, Dodgers general manager Al Campanis and the NFL's Bob Trocolor.
Producer: Matthew Rapf
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Herbert Baker
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Cinematography: William Mellor
Editing: Ben Lewis
Music: Alberto Colombo
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (John B. "Hans" Lobert), Vera-Ellen (Christy), Jeff Richards (Abraham Polachuk), Richard Jaeckel (Bobby Bronson).
BW-70m. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady

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