Jim Piersall is groomed by his loving but hard-driving father (living vicariously through his son) to play major league baseball. His desire to succeed to please his father leads to mental illness and a nervous breakdown. Can he overcome those difficulties and return to the major leagues? Written by
Jerry Milani <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins) was a major league baseball player, an exceptional outfielder and a lousy hitter. He had an overbearing perfectionist for a father (Karl Malden), was socially awkward, suffered from severe bipolar disorder and paranoid delusions, and fought with his teammates. That is pretty much where the similarities between "Fear Strikes Out" and reality end.
The story takes place in the early 1950s. Little was known about mental illness, and there were few if any psychiatric medications. There wasn't much beyond talk therapy and electro-convulsive therapy (then known as electro-shock treatment). Unfortunately, Jim responded to neither. He spent most of his rookie year in a psych hospital.
In one chilling (although probably invented) scene, psychiatrist Dr. Brown asks if he wants to watch a ball game. Jim doesn't respond, so the doctor flips on a game. A hitter doesn't extend a double into a triple, a play which Jim comments that his father would never approved of. As the conversation moves from baseball to Jim's father, Jim realizes "If it wasn't for my father, I wouldn't be where I am today!"
The film ended in typical Hollywood fashion, with Piersall returning to the team in 1953. I thought the roll of his wife Mary, played ably by Norma Moore, was badly underwritten. There was no mention of the fact that his mother also suffered from mental illness.
As a study of mental illness and its effects on a man, his family, his co-workers, and his career, "Fear Strikes Out" is a very good movie. Trouble is that it is so loaded with historical inaccuracies, mistakes, and "dramatic license" that the person upon whose experiences the story is based distanced himself from the movie.
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