This was only his third film and as far as I can tell, it is the first one that he has any lines. In “The Damned Don’t Die” he is an uncredited springboard diver (Noe there’s a surprise) and in “The Asphalt Jungle”, he appears in a lineup at the police station at the start of the film. Like those two earlier films, he is not given a screen credit for this movie, but I cannot understand why. His part is as the shortstop “Michael “Shorty” McGirk on the baseball team featured in the film, and he has more lines than any of the other players and a much more distinctive character as well. In fact, his part is pivotal to the plot.
The story starts with an eccentric millionaire who adopts a feral cat because of it’s independent streak. He becomes more attached to his cat than his horrible behaving daughter and leaves the cat his inheritance, including ownership of a professional baseball team. The team, which is struggling at the bottom of the league, is resentful at firts. The players are mocked by other teams with meowing sounds and bowls of milk. Ray Milland plays the publicist, who is guardian of the cat, and comes up with a scheme to motivate the players who are faking injuries as a work slowdown.
In a meeting with the team, he introduces the cat, and only two of the players touch “Rhubarb” the team owner. In the next room, checks are prepared and presented to the two players as overlooked pay that was due to them, and suddenly, since they were the only ones to have toched the cat, they see “Rhubarb as good luck. Strother is the first player to get this treatment, and his naïve “Shorty” is dewlighted and falls for the ploy, hook, line and sinker.
Naturally, the cat becomes a sort of good luck charm to the team, and they magically turn their season around with inspired play as they rub “Rhubarb ” for good luck during the games.
Strother’s character becomes an advocate for the cat among the team members. He persuades the other players of the cat’s “Lucky” qualities and has a couple of great lines. When the team was first malingering with the false injuries, Shorty claimed to have not just one but two Charley Horses. [Charley horse is another name for a muscle spasm.]. When he gets the unexpected bonus and the team goes back to playing, he says his horses have both gone back to the stable. Later, when the team members are pressuring Milland over how the cat should be handled during their playoff run, he suggests that the stable doors are opening again.
The team members all want Milland’s character Yeager, to marry the manager’s daughter Polly, played by Jan Sterling. Everyone knows however that Polly is allergic to “Rhubarb” and it might interfere with the cat being present at all of the games. So they get mixed up in disrupting a couple of marriage ceremonies in the process.
The plot has the disinherited daughter scheming against the cat. There are also a bunch of gamblers who are taking a beating by having to pay out repeatedly because the team is beating the odds due to the lucky cat, and they have their own plan. It does get a little convoluted, but Jay’s character is not really a component of those subplots.
Strother is full of his gee whiz comments and sparkly eyed facial expressions. Unlike the prairie scum, feckless business men that he would specialize in so often, here he plays a naïf, similar to his character in “Fool’s Parade“. He is full of open faced emotions and enthusiasm. There is nothing sinister, this part is comedy relief and plot advancement. Like I said, given his screen time, the number of lines he has, and that he is the most prominent of the baseball team characters, it is strange he doesn’t get a credit. We fans of Strother Martin will have to give him all the credit he deserves for this part