DVD Review: Kill the Umpire
Release Date: April 3, 2007
Distributor: Sony Pictures
· Lloyd Bacon
· William Bendix
· Una Merkel
· Ray Collins
· William Frawley
· IMDb: Kill the Umpire
by Paul Schultz
Published: March 29, 2007
"Kill the Umpire" is a vintage baseball comedy paired with "Safe at Home!" on Sony's newly-released "Baseball Double Feature", and also the favorite phrase of former ballplayer Bill Johnson (William Bendix). See, Bill has a hard time holding down a job when baseball season rolls around. America's Pastime constantly beckons, and Bill frequently skips out of work to head down to the ball park. He's not the best behaved fan, either, as he repeatedly "corrects" the umpire's calls, often escalating to bellowing, "Kill the umpire!"
Bill's long-suffering wife Betty (Una Merkel) and daughters Suzie (Connie
Marshall) and Lucy (Gloria Henry) have to deal with each firing, until Betty
finally threatens to pack up and leave. Bill promises to never go to the ball park during work hours again. Of course, he discovers a loophole by watching the game on television at the local tavern near his new telephone
repair job, while throwing back a few cold ones. Ah, the good old days
when you could get liquored up mid-day and then go back to work. This situation doesn't pan out so well for Bill, as his repairs splice in his drunken comments mid-conversation to telephone users, often with hilarious results.
So, he's out of work again (no surprise!), when Betty's visiting father Jonah Evans (Ray Collins) makes the suggestion that becoming an umpire himself will be the only way to cure Bill's addition while giving him a steady job. Bill's not too keen on the retired umpire's advice ("You don't have to teach them to hate umpires, they're born with it!" he exclaims when Jonah admonishes him for slamming his trade in front of a young boy.), but Betty's fed up, and he reluctantly heads off to umpire-training school.
Jimmy O'Brien (William Frawley) has his hands full teaching the recalcitrant Bill, who goofs off as much as he can to get himself thrown out of school. He eventually gets his walking papers, and waits for the train to take him home. A sandlot game is being played nearby, and he's pressed into service as umpire. The kids comment about how much more smoothly the game goes with an umpire, and Bill's heart is touched. He drops his long-standing disdain for the profession, and returns to the school with the promise to try his best.
His roommate at school, Roscoe Snooker (Tom D'Andrea), uses eye drops to enhance his vision, and Bill borrows some for the big exam. They don't work so well for him, and he sees double the whole time, making every call twice. This unique style earns him the nickname Bill "Two Call" Johnson
and the attention of Texas League scouts.
Bill pays his dues working through the Texas League system, where the fans don't particularly like his calls, but respect him for his accurate judgment. He's assigned to a playoff series at the end of the season, and an unscrupulous group of fellows led by Panhandle Jones (Jeff York) bribe the new umpire with $1000 to make sure calls go their way.
They don't, naturally, and Bill makes a crucial call that doesn't sit well
with the crowd. Unfortunately, the catcher was knocked unconscious and
couldn't confirm that he had dropped the ball and that Bill had made the correct call. Bill has to escape the ball park with his family just to stay alive,
as he hears a familiar refrain, "Kill the Umpire!"
Holed up at the hotel, Bill is determined to appear and work the next day's game. The mob outside has other ideas, however. So, his family
resorts to the dubious idea of faking a fire to smuggle him out. They set
alight newspaper in everyone's bathtub (and, apparently, the guests just allowed them in to do this) and fan smoke out the window. Yes, this movie was made before "The Towering Inferno" otherwise they might have thought better of attempting this in a high-rise. This sparks (no pun intended) a mad-cap chase sequence that suspends belief once and for all.
The plot of this 1950 film is a one-trick pony, and lasts a brisk 78 minutes. At that length the premise doesn't wear out its welcome, although I think a couple of minutes could have been added to the ending to wrap things up more leisurely. It's in black-and-white and the transfer appears crisp. It's by no means a masterpiece, but is quite funny even when the slapstick doesn't always work (particularly during the training sessions at school). It perfectly captures the mood of those passionate about baseball, and the appearance of this movie finally on DVD will appease the yearning of those looking forward to Opening Day.