Damn Yankees! [1958]

America's pastime gets a Faustian twist in this 1958 studio musical, which recounts the ballpark bargain struck by an aging Washington Senators fan obsessed with helping his team trump the Yanks. With echoes of the real-life 1919 Shoeless Joe Jackson scandal, and tart observations on the tradeoffs between youth and experience, Damn Yankees fuses a classic dramatic dilemma with musical comedy to often charming effect. In transferring George Abbott's Broadway hit to the screen, codirectors Abbott and Stanley Donen are smart enough to retain Richard Adler and Jerry Ross's clever songs, Bob Fosse's sizzling choreography (with Fosse himself on camera for the sultry mambo number), and stars Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, reprising their devilish turns as the Horned One himself, Mr. Applegate, and his temptress, Lola. Where the team strikes out, unfortunately, is in their concession to marquee politics, handing the pivotal role of Joe Hardy to handsome, vapid, celluloid heartthrob Tab Hunter, whose thin voice and unsteady screen presence argue that he should have stayed in the dugout. Walston is reliably spry and acerbic as the canny archangel, and Verdon, in one of her rare starring screen turns, confirms the comedic timing and sexy, muscular grace that made her a deserved draw in subsequent stage hits including another Fosse triumph, Sweet Charity. With her combination of feline grace and alternately steely, flirtatious femininity, Verdon makes you believe her when she sings, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." --Sam Sutherland

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