I recently wrote about The Stratton Story (1949) here on Immortal Ephemera because I'd acquired the original issue of The Sporting News covering his accident. In that post I said "It's 2006 DVD release earned an immediate spot in my collection," but when I went to watch it I found out I was a liar! So I placed a copy in my Amazon cart with intentions to buy before spotting it in the TCM Now Playing Guide to air this past Saturday, February 28. Thanks for saving me a few bucks, TCM, I recorded it Saturday afternoon and watched last night.
Better than I remembered, though after actually watching it again I have to admit I really didn't remember all that much. This is the first of June Allyson's three pairings with Jimmy Stewart, here as Ethel, the eventual wife of Monty Stratton. The surprising thing is Ethel was actually kind of nasty on their first date--not how I'm used to seeing usually sugary sweet June Allyson at all! More familiar territory was the catch she had with Monty after his leg had been amputated, she calls for the fastball and after egging him on some gets one that knocks her on her backside.
While some of the baseball scenes stretched reality a bit (the Southern All-Stars manager should be fired immediately for actually letting him hit there!), the chatter, calls, commentary, etc., were pretty much dead on. The Stratton Story included Bill Dickey of the Yankees, but instead of leaving us to wonder where Gehrig and DiMaggio were they not only mentioned them, but also cut to a shot of DiMaggio circling the bases. Or at least somebody wearing #5 trotting around. Jimmy Dykes was a little stiff playing himself at White Sox camp, but quite tolerable and we've seen worse acting from athletes.
The Stratton Story also featured a couple of great character actors, both far better known today for other roles, Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched) and Frank Morgan (The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz). Both were cast typically here, Moorehead the intimidating mother who never smiles, well not until later into the picture at least, and Morgan as the ultra-likable ex-big league catcher turned freelance scout. More often than not you're going to enjoy yourself if Frank Morgan shows up in something.
What I found interesting about The Stratton Story was that the character of Monte Stratton was presented as far from perfect. He starts off as a mama's boy, who ultimately gains her permission to go west and try out at Sox training camp. At camp he throws a bit of a hissy fit and has all but walked off the field before Dykes has to personally call him back. It's much easier to understand, but he really broods over his lost leg to such an extent that instead of celebrating or offering any kind of atta boy when his son takes his first steps he cracks back with something to the effect of "Well, what do you expect, he's got two legs," before abruptly leaving the room. He's even a bad date, refusing to dance, which he remedies later, and talking about nothing but baseball, which I suppose was supposed to charm the audience, but understandably leaves us with that Bizarro-world snippy version of June Allyson mentioned earlier.
Of course, this same weakness of character is also a benefit to The Stratton Story enabling us to discuss the depth of the character. When Stratton snaps about his child's first steps the first thing I thought of was Jimmy Stewart asking why they needed so many kids in It's A Wonderful Life (1946). This isn't a cheery performance, this isn't Pride of the Yankees, where Gary Cooper's Lou Gehrig is actually pretty goofy until we get to the tragedy later in the flick. Stewart's Stratton is cocky, cranky, a little dopey, eventually angry and afraid before mounting the courage to play again, which when viewed from a baseball perspective is even somewhat selfish in how it's presented.
Uneven or deep? I find myself surprised to say that I think The Stratton Story is a little of both and well worth the watch. I'll probably leave it in my Amazon cart for now, no need to rush out and buy after just having seen it, but it's still on my list for future purchase as I think there's more to be explored in the character of Monty Stratton.
Being an absolute giant of the screen means Jimmy Stewart collectibles sell very well. June Allyson on the other hand comes along a little later in screen history and doesn't quite have the demand you'd expect of a star of her caliber. The problem here, I think, is that she's most often the dowdy mom or wife, never the sexpot and with good reason in my opinion. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out why Stratton's teammate preferred her on that double-date!
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