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STRATTON STORY, THE (director: Sam Wood; screenwriters: story by Douglas Morrow/Mr. Morrow/Guy Trosper; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: James Stewart (Monty Stratton), June Allyson (Ethel Stratton), Agnes Moorehead (Ma. Stratton), Frank Morgan (Barney Wile), Bill Williams (Eddie Dilson), Jimmy Dykes (Himself), Bill Dickey (Himself), Bruce Cowling (Ted Lyons), Cliff Clark (Josh Higgins), Mary Lawrence (Dot), Gene Bearden (Western All-Stars Pitcher); Runtime:106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Cummings; MGM; 1949)
“The inspirational true story of Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The inspirational true story of Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who pitched from 1934 to 1938, is made into a fictionalized biography. In those five years in the major leagues Stratton compiled a pretty nifty won-loss record of 37-19. His major league baseball career ended at age 26 with a tragic hunting accident back home in Greenville, Texas, where his rifle accidently discharged into his knee while hunting rabbits. His leg was amputated the next day to save his life. Stratton relied primarily on a trick pitch called the “Gander,” and in his last season in 1938 he posted the best record in the American League. He only played in one charity baseball game after the accident, and eventually signed on with his team as a coach.

Jimmy Stewart portrays Monty Stratton in a natural country-bumpkin performance, while Stratton served as a technical adviser on the film. Stewart was teamed with June Allyson for the first time, and they became big box-office, leading to two more films together (The Glenn Miller Story and Strategic Air Command). Van Johnson and Gregory Peck were considered by the studio to play Stratton, but director Sam Wood (“A Night at the Opera”/”Goodbye Mr. Chips”) chose Stewart. Wood does an adequate job bringing this biopic to life, playing it up as an American success story about a nice guy. The director’s reputation was tarnished because of his vocal anti-Communist stand as president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, where he rallied to weed out any Reds from the movie industry. Wood also incurred the wrath of many in Hollywood by his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, where he stated that Hollywood was infiltrated by Commies.

Monty Stratton is a big scrappy farm boy, who enjoys playing baseball for his local Texas team (the Wagner Wildcats) earning three bucks a game. He’s discovered by a hobo, Barney Wile, who is an ex-major league catcher passing through town. Barney’s downfall stems from his drinking problem, but he remains sober as he brings Monty to California to try-out for his old friend Jimmy Dykes–the manager of the Chicago White Sox.

While still trying out for the team, Monty goes on a blind date with Ethel (June Allyson). The two fall in love and marry after he’s with the Chisox for a season. They spend the off-season back in rural Texas, on the family farm, with his hard-working mom (Agnes Moorehead), where Monty’s family is increased by the arrival of a son. Seemingly he’s on top-of-the-world, until the hunting accident in November of 1938. Ethel’s efforts at soothing the embittered Monty works, as he practices pitching into a bucket to make a comeback. The film plays fast and loose with the facts in the third act, as there’s an all-star game between barnstorming major league players and Monty is depicted as the game’s hero.

The film offers no surprises, but baseball fans might enjoy seeing some of the stars from the 1930s in action. The athletes include the great Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, and there’s a shot of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio rounding the bases after hitting a homer. The film is a reminder of a more innocent time when baseball was the national pasttime.

REVIEWED ON 10/31/2004 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”