Monday, August 11, 2008

Death on the Diamond

With the St. Louis Cardinals in town this past weekend to battle their heated rivals, the Chicago Cubs, it seemed a good opportunity to visit “Death on the Diamond” (1934) an engaging mystery from M-G-M dealing with a killer stalking the Cardinals team and killing off its members one by one. If more Cubs fans knew about “Death on the Diamond”, it may rank among their favorite movies.

Cardinals Manager David Landau is determined to keep criminal elements out of his team. Why these gangsters try to bribe Cardinals players to throw games so they can bet –and win big – on the outcome. Landau’s refusal to consort with gangsters doesn’t sit well with the underworld, but are they that low that they will start bumping off players?

One Cardinal gets shot and killed within full view of a crowded stadium as he races around third for an inside-the-park homerun. One of the starting pitchers misses his start and if later found strangled –and stuffed – inside his locker. A hot dog-loving player is done in by poisonous mustard.

New Cardinals starting pitcher Robert Young and team secretary (and Landau’s daughter) Madge Evans try to solve the mystery and, naturally, fall in love.

As can be seen by the above description, “Death on the Diamond” throws a lot of incident in its 67-minute running time. It’s not a home run, but a strong and durable double.

A huge part of the enjoyment of Golden Age movies is the wonderful supporting cast and
“Death on the Diamond” is loaded with familiar faces. In addition to Robert Young, Madge Evans and David Landau, we get Nat Pendleton, Ted Healy (minus the Stooges), C. Henry Gordon, Paul Kelly, Edward Brophy, Joe Sawyer, Robert Livingston, Mickey Rooney as a bat boy and Ward Bond as a cop. I think I also spotted an unbilled Walter Brennan as a hot dog vendor.

Just looking at that cast list and you can almost guess who the killer is. I did, and I was wrong.

Robert Young’s pitching scenes aren’t very inspired. There’s a noticeable splice between his wind-up and release. Maybe his follow through was lacking? But we shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Young. He had eight movies in release in 1934, so no time to train with big league pitchers for what was essentially a B mystery (albeit with a nice M-G-M sheen).

While the Cubs are never mentioned by name, the Cardinals do play Chicago in the Opening Day match-up. Later in the film, Joe Sawyer is talking about the Chicago team and says something along the lines of, “If I could hit against them all the time, I could be batting .1000.”

Hmmm, maybe the Cubs fans wouldn’t like this movie after all.

Rating for “Death on the Diamond”: Two and a half stars.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

I just watched my recording of this movie from the all day Mickey Rooney fest the other day on TCM. (Personally, I would have swapped this out for something else - maybe "Ambush Bay" if they had the rights to it.)

I took my guess at who the killer was and I was right - based on my rule that anybody who gives too much information on something that feels unrelated, there has to be a reason. But the script did have me second-guessing with one other suspect.

Not a bad way to spend just over an hour - and there was enough plot and characters to feel like it was a lot longer (in a good way).