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I still remember seeing this as a Little League-age kid in the theater
as our family was vacationing in Florida.
When I saw it again, some 40 years later, parts of the film were still very familiar, a testimony to how powerful some of these scenes were. I never forgot them.
This was a based-on-a-true-life account of major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall, a very talented player who suffered a nervous breakdown. The enormous pressure to succeed that was driven into him by his never-satisfied father was pictured as the cause which made him snap.
Anthony Perkins, who plays Piersall, and Karl Madlen, who portrays his dad, are both excellent, riveting characters. Some say this was Malden's best performance ever. Perkins was no slouch, either. This is the classic sports story of an overzealous parent living his or her dreams through their child.
The baseball segment of this film ended about halfway through. From that point, after Perkins breaks down at the park, climbing the backstop fence in a horrifying scene, the film actually gets even more interesting with everyone in the film contributing although the cast, after Perkins and Malden, is a pretty much an unknown-name one.
The only unrealistic part of the film, typical of sports films until the 1980s, was seeing an actor play a ballplayer when he "throws like a girl," as the old expression went. The younger actor playing Piersall as a kid was no better than Perkins in this regard. Neither had a clue how to a throw a ball. It looks corny nowadays.
Oh, well. That wasn't the focus of the story, anyway. As powerful as this film was, it apparently didn't have much of an effect as pushy parents in sports still exist and probably always will, taking the fun out of sports for a number of kids.
It's still a memorable film and worth your time today, especially if you have never seen it.
This a very interesting, but not totally factual, account of the life of
Jimmy Piersall. Piersall was a popular player with the Boston Red Sox. His
antics on and off the field are now legendary. Piersall fell in love with
baseball at a young age, but his domineering father forced Jimmy to not only
achieve, but to play to perfection. Mr. Piersall's constant manipulating can
be traced to his son's mental breakdown.
Anthony Perkins puts in a dedicated performance as Jimmy Piersall. Karl Malden excelled as the relentless Mr. Piersall. Also in the cast are Bart Burns, Norma Moore and Adam Williams.
This is a very stark and interesting movie, just don't take all the content as gospel. A baseball fan's delight.
I don't find movies about illnesses whether they are physical or mental, real or fictitious, to be entertaining, maybe informative or educational, so I am approaching my criticism of this movie from the baseball aspect. Jimmy Piersall was quite a character. He overcame a mental breakdown to become one of the greatest outfielders in baseball history. He was a real crowd pleaser with his fielding and antics, but his hitting left a lot to be desired. He just about ruined his arm showing off how far and hard he could throw the ball. When he hit his 100th homerun, he ran the bases backwards. Living near Boston, I saw him play ball on many occasions and I met him in person at a First National Supermarket opening in Lawrence, Mass. He signed a baseball and a photograph of himself for me, but I had to buy two bags of potato chips (Cains, I think it was) beforehand. As a kid, I could barely afford it, but more than fifty years later, I still have the ball and photo. What a thrill it was! I remember him as being handsome and big and strong, not a skinny guy like Anthony Perkins. As far as the movie goes, it was good, but not very accurate. Did you notice the obvious padding to Perkin's shoulders to make him look bulky? He looked like he never played baseball in real life, he was so awkward. (Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and William Bendix as Babe Ruth also looked pretty bad in their baseball movies). Did you notice that the stock footage was of Fenway Park but whenever Perkins was playing they showed some minor league park? Just look at the outfield background, that's not Fenway. What really bothers me is that they only mention one real life Red Sox person, Joe Cronin, and that was wrong, it should have been Pinky Higgins. What happened to Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen (my all time favorite Red Sox player), Dom Dimaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and a bunch of others who played on the team with Piersall? Ted's career was actually extended because Piersall was so good as a fielder that he used to run from center to left to catch flyballs so that Williams didn't have to tire himself out trying to get to them. Piersall was eventually traded to another team, so all his euphoria about playing for the Bosox didn't last. Still with all its' faults and disappointments, this movie is well worth watching, especially for baseball fans.
This is a great movie. I'm glad I made a special trip to the store to find this. I now have the new DVD. I remember catching it one day on Encore or maybe AMC. I thought what I saw of it was great. But the whole time I kept thinking of Perkins as Norman Bates. After I saw the whole thing for the very first time I thought of Tony Perkins in a whole new way. The scenes of him losing it and the scene where he stands up to his father are great. Good baseball scenes too. Very very good acting by Perkins. Malden was good too as Jimmy Piersall's over demanding father. Norma Moore is good as Piersall's wife Mary. This movie has great music by Elmer Bernstein, who's music is always great. The theme really sets the tone for a dramatic movie. This is a great sports movie, biopic, and drama. So be sure not to miss it. I recommend it to everyone. It shows that becoming a professional ball player, or in this case, an all-star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, doesn't come easy. My favorite part is where Piersall puts on his hat and walks out to go back to playing baseball for the first time after his recovery. That was a very inspiring scene. See this movie and you will love it. There is nothing to hate about it. Believe me, you will not be disappointed
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read part of Karl Malden's recent (in the past five years or so) autobiography, "When Do I Start?". Actually the first thing I did was look up this movie in the book's index! To my amazement, he wrote specifically about the scene that affected me the most, when father & son are in the empty stands, and his son is telling him he's the 2nd best at some position, and father says, "Well, you're not the best." HE WAS SO COLD. In the book, Mr. Malden says he "channeled" (my word, not his) his own father for that scene. I saw this movie for the first time in the past 10 years. It completely freaks me out that Mr. Malden would write about this particular scene FORTY years later. I highly recommend the autobiography, he is so under-appreciated, I think.
As a previous reviewer said Anthony Perkins did not exactly look like
Frank Merriwell out on the field during the baseball scenes, but the
film is about the true story of Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jimmy
Piersall who sustained a nervous breakdown and then came back to have a
pretty respectable major league career.
Showing the personal road Piersall took towards that breakdown is where Anthony Perkins gives one of his great film performances. This film is a lot like I'll Cry Tomorrow where Jo Van Fleet was pushing the career of her daughter Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth so she could have the success that her daughter had vicariously.
That's where the other great performance in the film comes in. Karl Malden is the baseball father, someone with the same dreams, that his son become a major league ballplayer. Malden's success involved being on his factory team, he wanted more and when he couldn't have it drove his son relentlessly to learn the skills and make the grade. But it was some price for Piersall to pay.
I remember Jimmy Piersall as a player when I was a lad. He played for the Red Sox in the years of the Casey Stengel Yankee juggernaut. He was a good contact hitter, didn't hit much for power, but played a flawless centerfield. The Red Sox in the Fifties had little to cheer about. There was a pitching staff of Mel Parnell and a bunch of nobodies. There infield was from hunger with the exception of third baseman Frank Malzone who came up in 1956 the last year Parnell played. But the outfield gave New England something to cheer about with Piersall in center, Jackie Jensen in right, and Ted Williams playing with his back to the Green Monster in left. Piersall covered so much ground in center field he made it real easy on both Williams and Jensen. The Red Sox let him go to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961 where he finished his career. Still he's a Red Sox legend.
The story had been previously done on TV's Climax Theater with Tab Hunter as Piersall. In his recent memoirs Tab said that he had hoped to do the screen version. At the time he was involved in a relationship with Anthony Perkins. Unbeknownst to Hunter, Perkins lobbied and got the part in the film. That sort of put a damper on the relationship.
I also echo other reviewers in wishing that some of Piersall's teammates and others in the Red Sox organization had been portrayed. Only Joe Cronin who was the General Manager at the time is shown on the screen. Legendary owner Tom Yawkey is not portrayed and that is a pity.
Interestingly enough Piersall may have gotten his chance with the Red Sox because of Joe Cronin's racist policies. The Red Sox were the last team in the major leagues to integrate. I remember that very well when Pumpsie Green became their first black player two years after Fear Strikes Out was released.
Fear Strikes Out is unfortunately a two person show with Perkins and Malden the only really developed characters in the film. But those are two very talented persons indeed.
This is not what one would call a pleasant film to watch particularly
Baseball. It tells the true story of former major league ball player Jim
Piersall of the Boston Red Sox and his eventual mental breakdown. While
certain events are not exactly the way they took place the story
sticks pretty much to fact. Anthony Perkins puts in a dynamic performance
Piersall. A kid who likes baseball but is driven to madness by his
domineering perfection minded father played by Karl Malden. Also included
the cast is Norma Moore as Jims devoted wife Mary and Adam Williams as the
psychiatrist Doctor Brown.
The first half of the picture deals with Piersall growing up practicing and playing baseball always under the scrutiny of his father. Whatever Jim did on the playing field it could always have been done better according to his Dad. The second half of the film deals with Piersalls mental breakdown and subsequent treatment and recovery. While watching a ball game on TV he makes remarks that his doctor picks up on and uses to unlock the reason why he cracked up. These same circumstances are no doubt still occurring today as many parents push their children relentlessly in everything from sports to academics to beauty pageants. Jim Piersalls story fortunately became a book and later this fine film that perhaps has and will continue to serve as a message to those who watch it. Whether you're a baseball fan or not this is a movie to be seen.
Outstanding biography detailing the life of Boston Red Sox slugger
The late Anthony Perkins depicted the appropriate temperament in his portrayal of this baseball legend. Driven by a domineering, obsessed with perfection father, Perkins is outstanding in his portrayal. He is equally matched by Carl Malden, terrific as the father.
From childhood Perkins is seen as being driven by his father to achieve perfection. Nothing less will satisfy the compulsive driven father.
The scene where Perkins goes berserk during a game is memorable.
His recovery is well staged as well. My diagnosis would have been to keep his father away but to make sure that the viewers see this wonderful film.
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.
If this story were filmed today, the treatment would be much more stark
realistic. But for a film in the mid-50s, it provided quite a punch in
conveying the agony of growing up with a loving but very demanding father.
When I saw it in the theater, I never questioned Anthony Perkins as a
teenager in the first part; today, this is much more difficult to swallow.
Even though dated somewhat, the film is still worth a watch.
Karl Malden is excellent as a father driven by his own sense of failure to attempt to live vicariously through his son. As a result, he literally orchestrates his son's life. Never accepting the `glory' of the moment, he places constant expectations and demands on his son. Possibly this is Malden's best role.
Tony Perkins has some fine moments of anguish and neuroticism as the ball player, Jimmy Piersall. One scene between his father and him after his breakdown is superbly acted with Perkins running through a panoply of emotions. That this emotional turmoil is somewhat subdued is to the credit of the film. Norma Moore gives a competent and rather understated performance as his wife. The doctor, played by Adam Williams, is appropriately comforting, but he's not up to delivering the big line, especially in his intense scene with Malden. Regretfully, Perry Wilson as Piersall's submissive mother, didn't have more of a role.
Some very nice photography using the angularity of steps and bleachers and railroad stations conveys the underlying jaggedness and tension of emotions. Elmer Bernstein's soundtrack is effective in supporting the mood of the film.
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