The Angels Are Behind Us: The 1951 Angels in the Outfield and the Truman-MacArthur Crisis

Article excerpt

The 1951 baseball fantasy Angels in the Outfield is an ameliorative rewriting in baseball terms of the related political problems facing the United States at that time: the Korean War, the threat of nuclear war with China and Russia, and the conflict between President Truman and General MacArthur. (1) The angels represent the spiritual guardians of the United States who are equated with the national pastime of baseball. The resulting success of the Pittsburgh Pirates with the aid of the angels is tantamount to the ability of the nation to overcome its problems. As the game goes, so goes our nation; the traditional values associated with baseball provide the resilience necessary for the country to emerge victoriously from its turmoil.

Dorothy Kingsley and George Wells, the co-writers of the screenplay, which was adapted from a story by Richard Conlin, create a comic plot which reflects the crises the nation was experiencing. The arguments, patterns of aggression and retreat, and the resolutions which characterized the crisis created by the Korean War are rearranged and shaped into a benign myth of the republic's being protected by its social, cultural, and religious traditions. Angels in the Outfield reputedly was one of President Eisenhower's favorite films, and he certainly would have appreciated its political message. (2) The movie verifies in a general sense the continuing survival and welfare of the country through its celebration of baseball as the national pastime and upholds a shared belief in a deity who protects us, who is "behind us" through all of our crises.

Angels in the Outfield belongs to a genre of angel and supernatural visitant films made between 1941 and 1951 that primarily were intended to bolster national morale during World War II and the Korean War. As Garry Wills points out, with the beginning of World War II the United States entered an extended period "of mobilization ... of economic resources, ... social planning, and cultural pressures. ... [A] lmost all our social action ... was affected, at one level or another, by the culture of war." (3) During this decade, as James Parish notes, at least sixty films were made dealing with ghosts and angels, the most prolific period of such films in American cinematic history. (4) It was comforting during such tense times to see movies which demonstrated that there is a benign afterlife ready to help us during crises. (5)

These films parallel Angels in the Outfield in important ways. Heavenly intercession is provided as the result of little Bridget White's (Donna Corcoran) belief in angels. She prays to them to help the hapless Pirates, and she is the only one to see the Heavenly Choir team in action on the diamond. Despite the taunts and disbelief which her visions and manager Guffy's (Paul Douglas) conversations with the angels cause, their belief is vindicated when Guffy's Pirates win the pennant. The fact that the eight-year-old orphan's name is Bridget is significant. There are two saints named Bridget, which means "valor" or "might." The first is the patron saint of Sweden (1303-73), who was known for her supernatural revelations about contemporary political and religious events. She founded the Brigettine Order, and her feast day is October 8, which is close to October 5, the birthday the nuns have given Bridget White. The second St. Bridget (d. ca. 525) was an almost mythical Irish saint, who founded a monastery, was honored for her special relationship to the Blessed Virgin, and was so popular that her cult was second only to St. Patrick's. (6) Bridget White's surname is also indicative of her purity and innocence. Her simple religious belief as expressed in her prayers sets in motion angelic support for the Pirates. (7)

The film's religious context is also indicated by Sister Edwina's (Spring Byington) home for orphans, which is named after St. Gabriel. Although we never see him, or any of the "angels in the outfield," the felt presence of Archangel Gabriel is ubiquitous. …