I was looking over Turner Classic Movie's monthly schedule for January when a film title caught my eye: Death on the Diamond. The overview of the film's plot read that someone was killing off the St. Louis Cardinals during a pennant race. I had to laugh a bit and began to wonder if the culprits were […]
I was looking over Turner Classic Movie's monthly schedule for January when a film title caught my eye: Death on the Diamond. The overview of the film's plot read that someone was killing off the St. Louis Cardinals during a pennant race. I had to laugh a bit and began to wonder if the culprits were the Cincinnati Reds or the hated Chicago Cubs-if you're a St. Louis Cardinals fan, you're not a fan of the Cubs. I recorded the movie so buckle in for a review of this short, 69 minute film.
The movie was made in 1934, and at that time the real St. Louis Cardinals were on top of the baseball world. That year, they would go on to finish number one in the National League and win the World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games. In Death on the Diamond, the Cardinals are in a 3-way race for the pennant, battling it out with the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs. The manager/owner Pop Clark, knows his team must win the pennant for him to be able to keep his ownership of the team. A new potential owner, Mr. Ainsley is waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in and take the team from Clark if the Cardinals fail to win the pennant.
Several horrid events occur during this pennant race before the murders begin. Two former players who got caught up in gambling are hanging around Sportsman's Park, trying to get back on the team, greatly annoying Pop Clark. Then, St. Louis gambling kingpin Joseph Karnes has bribed the team's new pitching ace, Larry Kelly. Wise sports writer Jimmie Downey warns Kelly not to associate himself with Karnes and the bribery attempt is foiled. Soon after, someone shoots out the tire on a taxi that Larry is riding in, the taxi crashes into a street construction site,and Larry escapes with a badly injured foot and has to miss 2 weeks of games. Then, someone was seen exiting the clubhouse by the batboy, Mickey. While Mickey didn't get a good look at this person, he did discover that this person messed around with all of the players gloves, as there was some kind of liquid inside of them. The team's doctor examines the gloves and discovers that the liquid would have caused severe skin-damage to the players. Man! Someone doesn't want the Cardinals to win this pennant race!
Three murders occur in this film, one right after the other. First, slugger Dunk Spencer is shot dead by a sniper during an away game in Chicago, as he is rounding third base and heading to home. During the second game against the Cubs, pitcher Frank Higgins is summoned to the away team's locker room to take a phone call. While there, he is attacked from behind and strangled. Lastly, back at Sportsman's Park, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, loveable catcher Truck Hogan unwittingly slathers his hot dog with poisoned mustard! He doesn't linger long after consuming the hot dog.
The list of suspects: the two outcast former players, gambler Joseph Karnes, possible new owner Mr. Ainsley, and at one point, even the new pitcher Larry Kelly is thought to be the killer since he and Dunk Spencer were both heard arguing about which one of them was going to date Pop's daughter, and secretary of the team, Frances. I won't give out the who the murderer is but I was surprised as to who it was and that person puts on an over the top, chew up the scenery rant for the confession!
Death on the Diamond was fun for me to view since I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan and used to live in a suburb of that city for almost 20 years. There's a banner advertising the now defunct newspaper the Globe-Democrat on the wall of Sportsman's park. The still functioning St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the newspaper that the newsboy is selling on the street. Actual footage of the Cardinals from the 1930s are used for the baseball game scenes. While no actual Cardinal players were cast in the film, one of the players speaks with a strong southern accent with funny lines to quip, and I am pretty sure his character was based upon Cardinals pitching ace Dizzy Dean. Dean was an Arkansas native who was a fan favorite player of the Cardinals for most of the 1930s.
The film was based on mystery writer Cortland Fitzsimmon's novel of the same title. MGM purchased the rights to the novel in order to turn the tale into a movie. Author Fitzsimmons wrote the screenplay, along with Harvey Thew, Joseph Sherman, and Ralph Spence. The film was directed by Edward Sedgewick and produced by Lucien Hubbard. Cast: Robert Young as Larry Kelly, Madge Evans as Frances Clark, David Landau as Pop Clark, Nat Pendleton as Truck Hogan, Paul Kelly as Jimmy Downey, Joe Sawyer as Dunk Spencer, Robert Livingston as Frank Higgins, Ted Healy as umpire Crawfish O'Toole, C. Henry Gordon as Joseph Karnes, Edward Brophy(later the voice of Timothy the mouse in Dumbo) as Police Sgt. Grogan, DeWitt Jennings as Patterson, and Willard Robertson as Police Lt. Cato. The young batboy, Mickey, is played by Mickey Rooney and that was fun to see. Also, playing a bit part as a police guard for the team is Ward Bond. Also in a bit part is great character actor Walter Brennan, with no lines, as an excited radio sports announcer during a game.
Death on the Diamond is a wacky bit of film, fast-paced, with the requisite happy ending. If you're a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I'd say it's a must-see. If you're a Cubs fan, it may just be a fun fantasy to see! Here's a link to one of the trailers for the movie that MGM had made to be shown in movie theaters. The movie is available for purchase at Amazon and at TCM's Shop.