Starring: Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston
Directors: George Abbott, Stanley Donen
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Every great musical has a standout showstopper and in Damn Yankees! it’s ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ – a thrilling partial strip tease performed by the incomparable Gwen Verdon in the unlikely setting of a men’s locker room after hours. Reprising the role that won her a Tony Award on Broadway a few years previously, Verdon simply sizzles on screen as a fiery red head who long ago sold her soul to the devil in return for eternal beauty. With legs that go on for days and a svelte, hour-glass figure, Verdon encapsulates the ultimate temptress. But it’s not all sex and sauce – this dame’s got a kooky streak and a unusual nasal twang that instantly endears us to her ultimately not so wicked ways.
Lola is the creation of Douglass Wallop, whose book ‘The Year the Yanke’’s Lost the Pennant’ was transformed into a hit stage musical by George Abbott with catchy songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and dazzling choreography by Bob Fosse. Abbott went on to co-directed the film version with Stanley Donen, who helmed such hits as Singing In the Rain and Funny Face, using the entire Broadway cast except for one key character who was replaced by the hunky studio favourite Tab Hunter. He plays Joe Hardy, the miraculous incarnation of an old Washington Senators fan who made a Faustian deal with the devilish Mr Applegate (Ray Walston) in order to rescue his beloved baseball team from yet another World Series defeat. In return for his soul, Applegate made him a crack long ball hitter and the beleaguered team simply can’t refuse his services. There is, however, an escape clause which Applegate tries to slam the door on by enlisting the services of the sultry Lola.
Part of Verdon’s scene-stealing appeal in the film comes from the remarkable Fosse-ography. In her, the young maestro had the perfect body to execute his modern moves and their compatibility is highlighted when he makes a rare cameo appearance as her Mambo partner in a number called ‘Who’s Got Pain’. Not surprisingly, the pair eventually married and continued to work together on several stage productions including ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Chicago’, and on the film All That Jazz. But this is peak performance stuff. Even if the thought of baseball bores you to tears, watch this film for the musical numbers, especially ‘Two Lost Souls’, ‘Shoeless Joe’ and ‘You Gotta Have Heart.’