The story of baseball great Jimmy Piersall.
Jimmy Piersall's career in major league baseball during the 1950s is one of the most impressive in the record books. During his time with the Boston Red Sox, Jimmy racked up seventeen seasons on the field and a great lifetime batting average of .272. All in all, the guy knew how to throw, catch, and hit—but before he became a legend, he battled something more terrifying than a knee injury or a fastball to the shoulder: mental illness. In the 1957 feature film, viewers follow Jimmy Piersall's (played by Anthony Perkins, Psycho) career, starting when Jimmy was a small boy all the way up to his major league status. In between we meet a few of the people that shaped Jimmy's life, including his devoted wife, Mary (Norma Moore, Problem Child) and his overly ambitious father, John (Karl Malden, Patton), who pushes Jimmy hard to become the best ball player he can be. Jimmy has talent to spare, but finds that becoming a recognizable athlete takes a toll on his life. After being accepted into the Red Sox as a shortstop, Jimmy finds himself having a mental collapse that includes yelling at and fighting with other ball players. This eventually leads to a complete breakdown that lands Jimmy in the hospital. It's in the mental ward of the local health facility that Jimmy learns what's been nagging him all these years, and what it will take to get healthy again.
Before he was a deranged hotel clerk in Alfred Hitchcock's classic shocker Psycho, Anthony Perkins got to play a deranged ball player in producer Alan J. Pakula's Fear Strikes Out. Though I'm not much of a sports fan (hockey is that game where they throw around that ball with the white laces, right?), I somehow had a fascination with watching Perkins in Fear Strikes Out. I'll admit that my perception of the actor may be a bit skewered—last summer I read Perkins' biography "Split Image" by Charles Wincott, a titillating book about Perkins' personal and professional life. After reading about his relationships with folks like Tab Hunter, it was hard for me to see him engaged and then married to a cute '50s bombshell (I know, I know…I should be able to look past all that, but dang it, I just couldn't). Apparently the real-life Jimmy Piersall was a tough ball playin' hombre and Perkins, God bless his heart, comes off as a sensitive, fragile mama's boy. Those qualms aside, Fear Strikes Out is a decent little baseball flick that, while nothing overly exciting or original, manages to hold the viewer's attention most of the way through. I don't know much about the real Piersall's life, though I have the sneaking suspicion that this film A.) skips over a LOT of his history and B.) "Hollywood-izes" and simplifies Jimmy's personal life and career in sports. The best player comes in the form of Karl Malden as Jimmy's abrasive, pushy father (yunger viewers will remember Malden as the pitchman for American Express credit cards and his catchy slogan "don't leave home without it"). While Perkins is miscast as Piersall, the scenes featuring Jimmy's breakdown are both harrowing and effective. If the World Series is on hold, Fear Strikes Out makes for decent, inconsequential filler. Otherwise, it's a movie that's best left to die-hard baseball and Anthony Perkins fans.
Fear Strikes Out is presented in a great looking black and white 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Though this transfer isn't quite as crisp as some of the newer restorations by Warner and Paramount (such as Sunset Boulevard and Citizen Kane), the image is nonetheless clear with only the slightest imperfections. Aside of a small amount of grain in the image, this transfer for Fear Strikes Out is solid with very even black, gray, and white levels throughout. Fans of the film and Anthony Perkins should be pleased with the way this transfer turned out. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in both English and French. The sound mix is nothing to write home about—though the dialogue, music, and effects are generally clear, there are some limitations in the source materials. However, this mono audio track does a fine job or reproducing what it was like to see the movie back in 1957. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Because this is a Paramount catalog title, it's not very shocking to find a lack of any extra features on this disc. At the least it would have been interesting to have seen interviews with the real Jimmy Piersall or some footage from his games. Sadly, not even a single theatrical trailer is included on this DVD.
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