The baseball season is here once again, and that means that not only is it time to get fired up for another season, but it also is time to start watching some baseball movies. And what better place to start than the light-hearted comedic romp “It Happens Every Spring” (1949)? This is a highly entertaining film about a college professor named Vernon (Ray Milland) who has been attempting a new chemical formula in order to achieve notoriety and a promotion, so that he can marry his girlfriend (and one of his students), Deborah (Jean Peters). Just before he is able to test his experiment, a baseball comes flying through the window, destroying all of his hard work.
Left alone to clean up, Vernon picks up the baseball lying in a pool of chemicals and casts it aside. What he witnesses, however, leaves him speechless. Wherever the ball goes, it repels wood. Vernon sees the potential to make some quick money, and he leaves his job and secretly joins the St. Louis baseball team, after impressing the team’s owner (Ed Begley). With the guidance of his new catcher and friend (Paul Douglas), Vernon (or King Kelly as he has renamed himself) is dead set on helping his hometown team win the World Series, while baffling hitters around the league with his “loop-d-loop” pitching.
Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is not what many would consider to be an “important” or “quality” film. It has been made for fun by filmmakers who love baseball and always dreamed of playing the game on a professional level. The script is a little bland, and if there weren’t such wonderful comedic actors in the roles, in would feel rather dry. Likewise, director Lloyd Bacon lays out the story for us without any surprises or complications. It is a straight-forward film that relies on the actors to keep things entertaining.
Luckily the cast is up for the challenge. Ray Milland is constantly enjoyable in roles like this one, and his fun, easygoing demeanor help to make him seem like a child still playing ball on a sandlot. Jean Peters appears to have purposefully spent her career blending into her films, and never standing out. She has done it again here, but not in a bad way. She does her part, plays the supportive girlfriend, and stays out of Milland’s way. The real highlight is Paul Douglas as the loveable, fumbling catcher. He has the best lines and plenty of laughs to hand out. The scene when he starts using the “formula” because he thinks it’s a hair tonic is particularly amusing.
The main reason that “It Happens Every Spring” leaves an impression is because it doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not. It is a movie filled with good clean fun and laughs, and that is why it is still so entertaining so many years later.