"Damn Yankees" Is Released
Damn Yankees is a 1958 musical film made by Warner Bros., a modern version of the Faust legend set in 1950 involving the New York Yankees baseball team.
The film is based on the 1955 Broadway musical of the same name.
The film version was directed by George Abbott, as he did the earlier stage version, with assistance from Stanley Donen. With the exception of Tab Hunter in the role of Joe Hardy (replacing Stephen Douglass), the Broadway principals reprised their stage roles. The film is very similar to the stage version. A notable difference between film and stage versions, however, was Gwen Verdon's performance of the song, “A Little Brains”. For the film version, Verdon’s suggestive hip-movements (as choreographed by Bob Fosse and performed on stage) were considered too risqué for a mainstream American film in 1958, and so, in the film, she simply pauses at these points. Similarly, the film was released in the United Kingdom under the title What Lola Wants, to avoid use of the word "Damn" on posters, hoardings and cinema marquees.
Damn Yankees is a frothy, faithful adaptation of the 1956 Broadway hit. In an amusing slant on the "Faust" legend, aging baseball fan Joe Boyd (Robert Schafer) is given an opportunity to lead his beloved Washington Senators to victory by a devilish gent named Applegate (Ray Walston). Boyd is transformed into handsome young "Shoeless" Joe Hardy from Hannibal, Mo. (and in the process, the part is taken over by Tab Hunter, who's better than everyone said he was back in 1958). Joe becomes the Senators' star player, but at the price of his immortal soul; he isn't terribly worried, however, since he's built an escape clause into his contract with Applegate. To see that Joe doesn't get a chance to exercise that clause, Applegate sends his luscious assistant Lola (Gwen Verdon) to seduce the ballplayer. This effort doesn't work, but Applegate still manages to cause Joe to lose his chance at salvation. But there is still a ray of hope--if Hardy can win the deciding pennant game, he'll be able to foil Applegate's master plan of causing the Senators to lose. With Lola's aid, Joe gives the devil more than his due. The principal selling angle of Damn Yankees, beyond the presence of Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston delightfully recreating their stage roles, are the wonderful Richard Adler/Jerry Ross songs, including "You've Gotta Have Heart" and "What Lola Wants, Lola Gets." Based on the novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, the film (like the play before it) unfortunately throws away Wallop's wryly ironic climax; as a result, the last scenes appear rushed and haphazard. But why quibble? Damn Yankees is and always was a rock-solid piece of entertainment, as proven by its recent S.R.O. Broadway revival. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide