Cast & Crew
In Washington, D.C., middle-aged real estate salesman Joe Boyd is an ardent fan of the unsuccessful Senators baseball team. Early in the season, after witnessing their defeat by the New York Yankees, Joe says he would "sell his soul for one good ball hitter." Appearing suddenly out of nowhere, Mr. Applegate, who is more commonly known as The Devil, agrees with him. Knowing that Joe has always yearned to be a baseball player, Applegate offers to make him the greatest ball player in history. Joe is skeptical of Applegate's claim to be the Devil until he realizes that only he can see him. Applegate explains that he will turn the out-of-shape Joe into a young man who can lead the Senators from seventh place, where they currently stand, to a championship victory. In return, Joe is troubled to learn, he must leave his wife Meg, but, being a shrewd businessman, he insists on an "escape clause" in case he does not like his new life. Although unused to negotiation, Applegate claims he does not want "those damn Yankees" to win again and agrees to give Joe one chance to back out of the deal at midnight on 24 September. Applegate and Joe then seal the bargain with a crossed double handshake. While Applegate gloats, Joe fetches his baseball shoes and writes the sleeping Meg a final note. Applegate then transforms Joe into Joe Hardy, a vital, twenty-two-year-old athlete. At the stadium, Benny Van Buren, the Senators' coach, bolsters the morale of his players, who are intimidated by the Yankees. Applegate and Joe arrive, asking for a tryout, but Joe finds that his old baseball shoes do not fit his new body. Borrowing another player's shoes, he impresses everyone with his amazing batting and fielding. However, when asked where he has played before, the only information Joe offers is that he is from Hannibal, Missouri. Once Joe is signed to the team, Gloria Thorpe, a sports writer, publishes a favorable article about Joe and the incident with his shoes. After seeing Joe play and reading Gloria's article, Mr. Welch, the team's owner, wants to arrange for more publicity, but Benny tells him that Joe is "strange" in that he is afraid of reporters. Gloria, although unable to interview Joe, creates a legend by nicknaming him "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." While evading questions from the press about his past, Joe leads the team to victories, aiming for the team to win the pennant before the date of his escape clause. Homesick for Meg, he rents a room from her against Applegate's will. Fearing that Joe is being drawn back to his old life, Applegate recruits his employee, the seductress Lola, to lure Joe away from Meg. Applegate explains to Lola his "mass torture plan" to build up the hopes of thousands of Senators fans, who, when the team loses the pennant, will be driven to "suicides, heart attacks and apoplexy." Lola is confident that she can "handle" Joe, but when she attempts to seduce him, he remains true to Meg. Applegate then spreads rumors about Meg and the young Joe, forcing Meg to ask Joe to move out to avoid scandal. On the 23rd of September a fan party in Joe's honor is held. While the fans are preparing for the party, Gloria, who has discovered that no one in Hannibal knows Joe, pumps them for information about him. Welch tries to calm Benny, whose team is close to winning the pennant, but who worries about Joe's recent, uncharacteristic behavior of throwing a ball into the stands at Applegate during a game. Lola has discovered that she really likes Joe and, feeling sorry for his predicament, joins the fan club and performs in the show. When Gloria approaches Applegate, who is now scheming to make Joe fail, the devil makes up "rumors" that Joe is really Shifty McCoy, a ballplayer on a Mexican team who disappeared after taking bribes to throw a game. Gloria investigates the story about Shifty, after which her newspaper prints an extra edition reporting suspicion about Joe's identity. Although Joe's fans are behind him and many blame the Yankees for starting the rumor, the baseball commission calls for a hearing. At the hearing, Gloria introduces Mr. Hawkins, Hannibal's postmaster, and other Hannibal citizens who have never heard of Joe. Applegate asks for a recess until late that evening, so that he can present a witness from Mexico who knows Shifty. Between the sessions of the hearing, Joe tells Applegate that he intends to exercise his escape clause, but is concerned that, at midnight, the hearing will still be in session. Applegate tells him to ask him to step into the next room at exactly five minutes to midnight. After Joe goes out the door, Applegate promises, "Joe Hardy" will disappear forever and Joe Boyd can resume his former life. Feeling sorry for Joe, Meg decides to help him, even if it means lying. With the support of her friends, Doris and Sister Miller, she attends the hearing and testifies that she knew Joe in Hannibal. As the visiting citizens from Hannibal know and respect Meg, her testimony vindicates Joe. However, after the hearing, Meg and others prevent Joe from leaving the room and when the clock strikes twelve, Joe becomes Applegate's permanent employee. Later that night, Lola finds a very depressed Joe on a park bench and tells him she has slipped Applegate a "Micky Finn," a sleeping potion that will keep him unconscious through the final game, thus allowing the Senators to win the pennant. When Lola tells Joe that she was "the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island," before Applegate got her, Joe comments that they are "two lost souls." Deciding to "make the best of it," they go out dancing and drinking to bury their sorrows. The next day, Applegate awakens too early and arrives at the game during the seventh inning with Lola in tow. When Lola tries to leave, Applegate turns her into the one-hundred-and-seventy-two-year-old witch that she really is. Joe is running to catch a ball that will determine the outcome of the game, when Applegate turns him into his older self. Despite the handicap of middle age, Joe manages to catch the ball and the Senators win the pennant. During the elated cheering that follows, Joe sneaks out of the ballpark and the press speculates that his disappearance is due to foul play by a group of gamblers who invested heavily in the Yankees. After Joe and Meg are happily reunited, Applegate comes to repossess Joe, but having been changed back, Joe is free to refuse him. Lola, who has been returned to beauty, also beckons to Joe, but is happy for him. Frustrated, Applegate throws a tantrum and disappears, letting Joe resume his life.
John P. Austin
Best Music Original Dramatic Score
Damn Yankees on DVD
By and large, the film retained the players from the show's initial stage run to reprise their efforts for the camera. The narrative opens in the suburbs of D.C., where middle-aged Washington Senators fan Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is resigned to another interminable summer of watching his team spiral downward in the standings while those insufferable New York Yankees make their inevitable run at the American League pennant. Joe's frustrated offer of his soul for just one Senators championship spurs the arrival on his doorstep of a dapper gent answering to "Mr. Applegate" (Ray Walston), reeking of brimstone and ready to take him up on the bargain.
A savvy businessman, Joe demands and receives an escape clause on the deal, leaving him until September 24th to back out. Applegate holds up his end of the bargain by transforming Joe into a young Adonis (Tab Hunter) with a MVP-caliber hitting stroke, and re-dubbing him "Joe Hardy." Leaving only a vague note for his baseball-widow spouse Meg (Shannon Bolin), Joe follows Applegate to the Senators' home field, where his "agent" wrangles him a tryout. A few prodigious shots into the bleachers later, the Senators decide to take a chance on the unknown. Within a matter of weeks, Joe has placed the team on his back, and the perennial sad-sacks find themselves playing with a confidence they'd never before experienced.
Applegate, for his part, is kicking himself for leaving Joe an out, and is less than thrilled that the sudden superstar continues to pine for his abandoned wife; Joe goes as far as to knock on his own door and ask Meg if she needs a boarder. Applegate counters by summoning his top-rated seductress, the statuesque Lola (Gwen Verdon), in order to entice Joe into missing the deadline. Joe's challenge to save his soul as well as the Senators' postseason carries the story to its conclusion.
Playwright George Abbott shared director's credit with Stanley Donen, and their matched sensibilities (together with the hummable Richard Adler/Jerry Ross score and the customarily nifty choreography of Bob Fosse) ensured that the play's verve would be well preserved in the adaptation. Damn Yankees offered two of the principals from the show's original Broadway run what would be their best showcases in Hollywood. In committing her Tony-winning performance to celluloid, Verdon is sinuous and smoky, almost palpably fogging the lens with the show-stopping "Whatever Lola Wants", and demonstrating her chemistry with future spouse Fosse in the mambo number "Who's Got The Pain." Walston is consistently amusing in his gleeful malice, never more so than in the staging of the darkly hilarious "Those Were the Good Old Days."
While Hunter's status as the hunk of the moment began to decline after Damn Yankees, he looks the part of the star jock, and he's more than serviceable in bringing across the film's gentler moments. Other nice supporting work was delivered by Rae Allen as the lady sports reporter desperate for dish on Joe's too-shrouded past; James Komack, Albert Linville and Nathaniel Frey as the teammates; and Jean Stapleton, seen in her film debut as an annoying spinster friend of Meg's.
Thankfully, Warner provided a exceedingly rich video transfer for this DVD, presented in its original 1:85.1 aspect ratio; the colors pop, and the definition is remarkably sharp. If any fault is to be found with this release, it's in the relative lack of extras; the only inclusions is a theatrical trailer, ostensibly for the British market since it bears the film's U.K release title of What Lola Wants.
For more information about Damn Yankees, visit Warner Video. To order Damn Yankees, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay S. Steinberg
Damn Yankees on DVD
Is Washington winning dear?- Meg Boyd
Noooo. Those damn Yankees.- Joe Boyd
In Hannibal, they were always sayin' cool air was on its way from Canada.- Meg Boyd
Now, my friends' sister and Doris, they like baseball... but they don't suffer so!- Meg Boyd
One long ball hitter, that's what we need! I'd sell my soul for one long ball hitter.- Joe Boyd
With my help a lot of things come easy?- Mr. Applegate
Ohhhh, uh, do you smoke?- Mr. Applegate
Hey... how'd you pull that off?- Joe Boyd
I'm handy with fire.- Mr. Applegate
The actors had to sing along with a metronome, for the musicians that would normally have accompanied them were on strike at the time.
The above title credits for the producers, which read: "A George Abbott Stanley Donen Production," are superimposed over a scene of stands in a ball park. The camera lowers to show color shots of a baseball game in action. Then the scene is shown as it appears on a black-and-white television set in the living room of characters "Joe and Meg Boyd." A color sequence commences, showing Joe engrossed in a Yankees-Senators game. When the Yankees score, Joe says, "Those damn Yankees!" prompting an animation to begin, in which a red box containing the title in large white letters appears, after which the letters and box flash various colors. The rest of the opening credits appear over a ball-park themed, animated background. After the credits, the scene returns to the Boyds' living room and the film continues.
The onscreen credits for the husband-and-wife costume and design team, who also worked on the Broadway production, reads: "Production and Costumes Designed by William and Jean Eckart." Choreographer Bob Fosse appears as Verdon's dance partner in the song "Who's Got the Pain?" and is referred to in the film by his surname, "Fosse." The character played by Albert Linville was called "Lindy" in the scene prior to the song "(You've Got to Have) Heart"; however, a studio staff and cast list calls the character "Linville," and an official billing dated July 10, 1958 lists his character name as "Vernon," which is what his character was called in the stage version.
As noted in reviews and other sources, the story of Damn Yankees is a modernized variation of the Faust legend, in which "Faust" sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for wealth and fame. The character name for "Shoeless Joe" May have been inspired by the real-life "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, a popular and successful baseball player whose career was ruined when he and seven other White Sox players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. Although he was acquitted by a Chicago jury, the baseball commissioner banned the eight men from playing for life.
The original Broadway show of Damn Yankees ran from May 5, 1955 -October 12, 1957. As in the film The Pajama Game , Stanley Donen and George Abbott shared producer and director credits; however, as the Hollywood Reporter review noted, Donen was "in charge of camera matters." Donen's biography and other modern sources state that Donen requested Abbott's input to keep the film consistent with the Broadway production.
According to studio production notes, seven cameras filmed three actual Yankees-Washington Senators games to use in the film. The production notes also stated that portions of the film, the "Shoeless Joe" ballet sequence and certain close-ups and crowd scenes, were shot at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field. The story is set in Washington, D.C., and according to a modern source, some sequences were filmed at the city's Griffith Stadium. To match the Wrigley Field exteriors to Griffith Stadium, building fronts were added and canvas drops painted to look like the sky to mask the surrounding palm trees.
With the exception of Tab Hunter, who portrayed Joe Hardy, all the actors in major roles, as well as many crew members, worked in the original Broadway show. Modern sources surmise that Hunter was cast instead of Stephen Douglass, who played the part on Broadway, because of Hunter's box-office appeal. According to Donen's biography, Hunter's singing voice was partially dubbed. Although Bert Tuttle was listed in several weeks of Hollywood Reporter production charts as art director, only Stanley Fleischer is credited onscreen. Dancer-actress Verdon, whose portrayal of "Lola" in the film and on Broadway marked her first big speaking role, became Fosse's third wife in 1960. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, May 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items add Del Christie, William A. Forester and Phil Arnold, and modern sources add Nesdon Booth, Joseph Mell, Leo Theodore and Art Passarella to the cast.
Many special effects were used throughout the film. When "Applegate" appears and disappears, and when the appearance of characters Joe and Lola are transformed by Applegate's magic, their changed appearance is preceded by a softly shimmering, amorphous shape. During portions of the song "Six Months Out of Every Year," Donen employed a multiple, split-screen effect, showing six scenes at one time. While singing "Those Were the Good Old Days," Applegate's head is surrounded by colored bubbles that contain scenes of his past nefarious deeds. Near the end of the film, when Applegate must rush to get to the final baseball game before it ends, his movements are shown in fast motion.
Several songs from the Broadway version, among them "A Man Doesn't Know," "Near to You" and "The Game," were cut from the film. An additional song written for the film by Richard Adler (after his partner, Jerry Ross, died of lung disease in 1955) was "There's Something About an Empty Chair." As noted in modern sources, Damn Yankees was the first of Fosse's shows to exhibit controversially "sexy" dance routines. Verdon's performance of the song "What Lola Wants" was tamed in the film version to comply with the censors.
The film's opening was held in Denver, CO, which was the location of the Yankees' farm club, according to a September 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item. According to a June 9, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was released under the title What Lola Wants outside the United States. The news item explained that the studio believed audience members outside the U.S. would not realize that the nickname "Yankees" referred to the New York ball club and not Americans generally. A June 25, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Damn Yankees was the first Hollywood musical to be scored abroad. Because of the strike of the AFM studio musicians, which, at the time, was in its fifth month, music director Ray Heindorf supervised the recording in Rome. Heindorf was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, but lost to Gigi's André Previn.
On April 1967, a televised version of Damn Yankees, directed by Kirk Browning, aired on the NBC network and starred Lee Remick, Jim Backus and Phil Silvers. In March 2004, according to a Daily Variety news item, a new screen version written by Peter Tolan and Mike Martineau, was being developed. As of June 2005, the film had not gone into production.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Fall September 1958
Released in United States July 1984
Released in United States July 1984 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (50 Hour Sports Movie Marathon) July 5-20, 1984.)
Released in United States Fall September 1958