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The Best Movies You’ve Never Heard Of (Special Baseball Edition): “Alibi Ike” (1935)

“The Best Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” is a series of articles devoted to little-known movies of exceptional quality that dedicated film buffs may be aware of but have somehow fallen through the cracks of the general public’s awareness.

“Alibi Ike” is a baseball comedy film that revolves around the antics of rookie Cubs pitcher Frank Farrell, known as “Alibi Ike” due to his propensity for making excuses.

Directed by Ray Enright, the movie stars Joe E. Brown, Olivia de Havilland, and William Frawley.

The film is adapted from a story by Ring Lardner and features a humorous portrayal of Farrell’s struggles, both on and off the field, as he navigates through misunderstandings and encounters with gamblers.

With a runtime of approximately 73 minutes, the film offers a blend of sports-themed comedy and romantic elements, making it an entertaining watch for audiences.

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“Alibi Ike” (1935) – Unveiling the Unforgettable Joe E. Brown

In a twist of fate, comedian Joe E. Brown, renowned for his role in Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” would have faded into obscurity if not for this classic.

Despite being one of the most beloved Hollywood comedians of the Depression era, Brown’s legacy has largely receded from public memory.

Despite his diminutive stature, Brown was a natural-born clown with a penchant for acrobatics and physical comedy, rivaling the legendary Buster Keaton.

His love for baseball paralleled Keaton’s, with Brown even declining an offer to join the New York Yankees in favor of pursuing a career in entertainment.

During his tenure as Warner Bros.’ top comedian in the early 1930s, Brown crafted an informal trilogy of baseball comedies, including “Fireman, Save My Child” (1932), and “Elmer the Great” (1933), with “Alibi Ike” (1935) emerging as the standout entry.

Adapted from a story by renowned baseball writer Ring Lardner, the film, directed by Ray Enright and scripted by William Wister Haines, remains faithful to its source material, retaining much of the original dialogue.

While the story was originally a concise “boy meets girl” narrative, the film introduces a subplot involving game-fixing gangsters to expand its runtime.

Alibi Ike boasted some authenticity rarely seen in sports movies.
Alibi Ike boasted some authenticity rarely seen in sports movies.

Moreover, the title character, initially a batting sensation, is reimagined as a star pitcher, injecting visual humor into the narrative, particularly through Brown’s exaggerated pitching antics.

“Alibi Ike” offers a rare authenticity in sports cinema, with game sequences filmed at the iconic Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and professional ballplayers of the era assuming non-speaking roles in the film.

Notably, the movie marked the debut of actress Olivia de Havilland, who portrayed Brown’s love interest, adding to the allure of the cast.

The film’s title, “Alibi Ike,” stems from Lardner’s description of the main character, Frank X. Farrell, as someone who never made a play without apologizing for it.

The narrative unfolds as Farrell, a bush league player traded to the Chicago Cubs, navigates the season’s challenges, vividly depicting the era’s baseball culture.

Interview Regards Work

Johnson: “I know you had nothing to work with last year but—“

Cap: “Nothing? I had the finest-trained butch of rookies you ever saw with one ball player among ‘em, Pennick. All he did was keep us from fallin’ out of the league. But Pennick, it now appears, has been sold!”

Johnson: “Oh, snap out of it, Cap. We’ve still got the rest of the club.”

Cap: “Yeah, cut off Max Baer’s right arm and you’ve still got the rest of a heavyweight champion, too.”

Johnson: “It’s not as bad as all that. Pennick was good, yes, but it’s not every year you can get a hundred thousand dollars for one man.”

Cap: “Who’s gonna pitch for us, them hundred thousand dollars?”

Johnson: “You’re sure to find something good among those new players. That boy Farrell alone struck out twenty men in one game last year.”

Cap: “Yeah, in Sauk Centre, wasn’t it? Did they claim Babe Ruth was playin’ against him in Sauk Centre? I bet I’ll have to ring a cow bell to get him in off the field.”

Johnson: “Well, at that, you can buy a lotta cow bells for a hundred grand.”

During an interview with a sports reporter, Cap receives a telegram from Farrell, apologizing for being late due to a calendar mix-up.

Mocking Farrell’s excuse, Cap is surprised when Farrell arrives dramatically, crashing through the fence in a chaotic car ride.

Farrell showcases his pitching prowess despite the unconventional entrance, earning Cap’s forgiveness for his habitual excuses.

However, Farrell’s teammates, particularly Jack Mack and catcher Bob Carey, are determined to catch him in a lie.

Farrell’s penchant for alibis extends even to mundane situations, such as citing discomfort from gravel in his shoes after a night of playing pool.

Farrell’s proclivity for making excuses leads to trouble when he falls for Dolly Stevens, who happens to be the sister of Cap’s wife Bess.

Their instant attraction leads to Farrell proposing to Dolly.

When Bess shares the news with Carey, he and Jack tease Farrell about the engagement, unaware that Dolly is listening from the other side of the hotel lounge door, a scene directly from Lardner’s story.

Carey: “Now wait a minute, Ike, I got a bet here with Mack and it’s up to you to settle it.”

Farrell: “Well, make it snappy.”

Carey: “Well, I bet that you and Dolly were engaged to be married.”

Farrell: (sheepishly) “Well… well, no, we’re not exactly engaged—”

Carey: “Now, listen, no alibis! This costs me real dough if I lose, so give it to us straight. Cap’s wife said you were engaged, right?”

Farrell: “Well, I… I don’t want it to cost you any money, Bob. You win.”

Carey: “What did I tell ya? Congratulations, Ike!”

Mack: “Ike, you gotta swell gal!”

Carey: “She’s a peach! You’re a lucky guy, Ike!”

Farrell: “Yeah, she’s all right, I guess, but I never cared much for girls.”

Mack: “That is, not until you met this one?”

Farrell: “Well… she’s okay, I guess, but I didn’t want to get married yet a while.”

Carey: “Wait a minute, wait a minute, let’s get this straight. Who done the asking? Her?”

Farrell: “No, not exactly her, but… but… but sometimes a fella don’t know just exactly what he’s gettin’ into. You… you take a good-lookin’ girl and a fella does just about what she wants him to. When a fella gets to feelin’ sorry for a girl, it’s all off.”

“Alibi Ike” – A Rollercoaster of Romance and Baseball

Following a tumultuous encounter with Dolly, Farrell finds himself embroiled with a gang of gamblers, inadvertently agreeing to cooperate after being deceived by their facade of a youth club.

When pressured to throw a game, Farrell’s refusal results in suspicion from his team management, exacerbated by his subsequent loss and dubious cash delivery.

As tradition dictates, a pivotal game ensues, intertwined with Farrell’s kidnapping by the gamblers, setting the stage for a dramatic chase and a race against time to make it to the crucial match.

In a thrilling climax, Farrell crashes into the game, eventually leading the Cubs to victory in a legitimate and exhilarating manner.

True to sports comedies, the film culminates in a Hollywood ending, as Farrell reconciles with Dolly, culminating in their wedding.

Alibi Ike poster on movie hall
Alibi Ike poster on movie hall

Ray Enright’s adept direction ensures a captivating pace, guiding Joe E. Brown through a captivating performance, complemented by the delightful presence of the young romantic lead, Olivia de Havilland, and the stellar support from the ensemble cast.

“Alibi Ike” is a captivating blend of action and comedy, with Enright’s direction and the pristine print of the film adding to its allure.

While the DVD lacks extensive extras, the film’s quality remains uncompromised. With only a handful of Brown’s comedies released, one can hope for more of his classic works to be made available in the future.

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Ashish Dahal
Ashish Dahal
Ashish is a prolific content writer, blends with the creativity with precision in his writing. His work, characterized by clarity and engaging storytelling has gathered a loyal readership. His passion for words fuels his constant pursuit of excellence.

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