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Warner Home Video presents
"That's a powerful lot of money for just throwing a ball."
DVD ReviewIf Monty Stratton lived and played ball more recently, he'd be the subject of a Lifetime movie, but since he's from another era, his life is the focus of this weepie of a picture. It's one of those triumph-of-the-human-spirit-over-adversity stories, and, not to be cavalier about human suffering, it is pretty by the numbers—you can see the plot turns coming down the pike from miles away. If you're feeling curmudgeonly, then, this isn't the right picture for you, so if you go in for it, bring your handkerchiefs.
James Stewart stars as Monty Stratton, who works the farm for his widowed mother in Wagner, Texas, and steals a few hours here and there to pitch for the local baseball team. It just so happens that an itinerant scout looking for the next big thing happens upon one of Monty's games, and he's wowed by the smoke Stratton is throwing— the scout, Barney Wile, is played by Frank Morgan, more familiar to us as Professor Marvel, so pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Barney sells both Monty and his ma on the idea of taking the young fellow for a big-league tryout, and sure enough, Monty finds a roster spot with the White Sox in spring training.
Things couldn't be going more swimmingly—Monty gets a girl to go along with his big-league contract, and soon enough, he convinces Ethel (June Allyson) to become Mrs. Stratton. And then disaster strikes—during an off-season hunting expedition, Monty inadvertently shoots himself in the leg, requiring its amputation. How will the former phenom react to life now that his physical limitations are the informing fact of his life?
The film is directed by Sam Wood, who also made The Pride of the Yankees, and this movie is clearly intended to follow the same template: baseball player faces medical peril, and triumphs over it (to some extent, at least) through the love of a good woman. (It is, in fact, the same playbook that got trotted out for A Beautiful Mind.) Both this review and the copy on the back of the case probably give away too much of the tale—if you don't know the facts of Stratton's life, the abrupt turn the movie takes about an hour in, when the gun goes off, is deeply jarring. Stewart is game in the title role, but as was said of Roy Hobbs, he looks like a man who should be hanging up his cleats, not trying to make the team as a rookie. June Allyson plays Ethel, and she's got a low-key charm in a largely thankless role; it's tough to have to spend much of the running time as little more than the long-suffering wife. Particularly effective here is Agnes Moorehead, somewhere between her stern turn as little Charlie Kane's mother and her lighter one as Endora, everyone's favorite paranormal mother-in-law.
The movie is loaded with just about every hoary cliché imaginable—the broken-down coach, the bitter amputee, the constant wife, the redemption of the big game—but you've got to respect a movie that embraces these without the least embarrassment. There's some great period stuff, too, like the old Comiskey Park, that great big birthday cake of a building, and the outfits not just of the players, but of their wives on game day—smart suits, hats and gloves were the order of the day. Also worth mentioning are a few cameos from big leaguers, including footage of Joltin' Joe Di Maggio rounding third, and Bill Dickey being courtly at a restaurant after the game to Mr. and Mrs. Stratton.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The transfer is a reasonably respectable one; certainly the movie shows its age, and some of the gray levels can look degraded here and there, but generally the scratching and debris are at a minimum.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The mono track has some hiss; also, the presence of a French-language track mystifies me, but allons-y.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA syrupy tale that's not in the first rank of baseball movies, but that will pluck at your heartstrings nonetheless.
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