Fans of nostalgia and sports should have a field day with Lost & Rare, Vol. 2: Sports Immortals, a collection of vintage shorts and featurettes centering on athletic greats from the earlier-to-middle part of the 20th century.
The centerpiece of the collection is a 44 min. production made by the American League of Major League Baseball and the Kellogg Company in 1939 to celebrate baseball’s centennial. Entitled “Touching all Bases,” the film shows a bunch of kids playing a pickup game of baseball in a playground who get into a skirmish over a close play. Enter Boston Red Sox shortstop-manager-star Joe Cronin, wearing a suit, who invites the kids to watch a movie and catch a game at Fenway.
This device gave the kids—and the viewers–the opportunity to take a whirlwind tour of great ballparks of the era (Sportsman’s Park! Yankee Stadium! Shibe Park!), visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in its debut year, check out an early night game, get playing tips from stars and actually hear some of the greats speak, such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb (who doesn’t look or sound anything like Tommy Lee Jones).
The other segments on the program are quite a bit shorter. Sports Immortals presents a zippy overview of the world’s top athletes circa 1939, and pretty much touches all the bases, from football (Knute Rockne talks, Red Grange rushes at Philly’s Franklin Field) to auto racing (Barney Oldfield), tennis (Helen Willis) to horse racing (Man O’ War), and boxing (Jack Dempsey) to swimming (Gertrude Ederle). Narration is provided by Ed Thorgersen of “Sports Reviews” and Fox Movietone News fame.
1939’s The Brown Bomber focuses on boxing champ Joe Louis outside of the ring. Silent with narration and music, the seven minute short shows the “Brown Bomber” training, sparring, hanging out with other fighters (Jim “Cinderella Man” Braddock and Henry Armstrong), weighing in for a match with John Henry Lewis, eating steak and checking out his record collection—his favorite music, we’re told, is swing. No surprise, since Louis is depicted here as one cool cat.
Produced in the 1940s in association with Look Magazine, Kings of Sport uses an argument between poker players over “Who is the greatest sports figure of all-time?” as the launching point for a series of classic film clips from baseball (featuring Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio), tennis (Bill Tilden), football (Tom Harmon, Red Grange), track (Jesse Owens, Greg Rice) and boxing (Joe Lewis, Gene Tunney). Of course, the question is never answered, but Kings of Sport offers several names and images to ponder.
The last entry on the disc is 1936 Olympic Highlights, a roundup of America’s athletic endeavors in the Berlin games sponsored by Hitler and the Nazis. Along with clips of the ill-fated airship Hindenburg, Jesse Owens’ amazing track achievements and highlights of other competition, there is footage of the introduction of the countries, and mention by narrator Jack Martin of the amount of swastikas seen and how “Deutschland Uber Alles” is played loudly during the ceremony overlapping with the Americans arriving at the stadium. We also observe French athletes saluting with their arms. Later, it was debated whether it was done “Hitler Nazi-style” or simply as an “Olympic salute.”
Not open for debate, however, is the first-rate quality of the footage on Lost & Rare, Vol. 2: Sports Immortals (the first volume of Lost & Rare is a collection of TV pilots). Except for some minor fading on the Olympics entry, everything on the disc is extra-crisp with good quality and title cards that offer an explanation on the upcoming featurette.
And to that we say hip-hip-hooray.