It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to baseball…the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, a cat named Rhubarb. Okay, that last one might not make everyone’s list, but it sure makes ours. Who could forget the story of the scrappy yellow cat who went from living under a bush to owning a Major League Baseball team? I am referring, of course, to Rhubarb, the 1951 film directed by Arthur Lubin and based on the book by H. Allen Smith.
The cat and his golf ball collection
Brooklyn Loons owner T. J. Banner (played by Gene Lockhart) has a problem. His team stinks. The team’s manager (played by William Frawley; I Love Lucy, anyone?) and publicist Eric Yeager (Ray Milland) think they need some better players, but Banner knows better. What they really need is some spirit, some fight. They need the same kind of fight exhibited by a certain yellow stray cat who steals rich men’s golf balls right off the green. “Get me that cat,” Banner tells Yeager, basically.
And so the cat who comes to be known as Rhubarb goes from managing his golf ball collection to inspiring a baseball team owner. (By the way, a “rhubarb” in baseball is a dispute on the field. We never knew that before watching this movie.) When Banner dies, he leaves his fortune and his team not to his scheming, selfish daughter but to Rhubarb. Yeager is named as Rhubarb’s guardian. All well and good…well, except for the daughter…and except for the players, who threaten to quit because they’re being made fun of over their new owner. Good thing for Yeager they’re all a bunch of “superstitious screwballs.” All he has to do is convince them that Rhubarb is their good-luck charm, and they’ll love him.
An allergic fiancée, a disinherited daughter, and a catnapping!
Once the Brooklyn Loons have been thoroughly convinced that all their good luck is down to Rhubarb, the cat becomes an indispensable part of the team. He has a special seat at the ballpark, where each player gives him a few pets before going to bat. He is pursued by, well, I guess you’d call them feline groupies. With the team (now known to one and all as the Rhubarbs) on their way to the World Series, things are definitely looking up.
Success can breed trouble though, and Rhubarb has plenty of that. First off, Yeager’s fiancée seems to be allergic to the cat. And let’s not forget the millionaire’s daughter, who contends in court that the cat currently living in *her* mansion is not the real Rhubarb. Then, worst of all, Rhubarb is catnapped by bookies who are about to lose their shirts betting against the Loons. Will the team get their good-luck charm back in time for the pivotal game of the Series?
Well, it is a comedy, so basically, yes. But only after Rhubarb escapes and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the stadium.
Another masterful performance from Orangey
Rhubarb is played by Orangey the cat (whom you may also remember from his brilliant performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Orangey does a fantastic acting job in this film. He is convincing as both the down-and-out stray with the golf ball collection and the spruced-up millionaire. He is at once fierce and endearing. Orangey won his first Patsy award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) for his work in Rhubarb.
We did get quite a few laughs out of this film. I will say it was not side-splittingly funny, but there are plenty of hijinks, mainly related to people trying to catch Rhubarb. It was fun seeing him jump from one place to another, often with a bumbling human a step behind. The story is good, with a variety of characters and a nice bit of drama (though you know things are going to turn out okay in the end, which we think is a plus when you're looking for light entertainment). We especially liked how Yeager and his fiancée proved that Rhubarb was Rhubarb. And we enjoy Ray Milland, so seeing him holding a handsome orange tabby for much of the film was a big plus. (And did you spot Leonard Nimoy in the clip above? He looks so young!)
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good movie; two paws is for a great movie. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!
The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the movie through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account. Thank you!