Fear Strikes Out (Robert Mulligan / U.S., 1957):

The rise, fall, and rise of Red Sox rookie Jimmy Piersall -- the athleteís crackup is a laboratory experiment, practically, laid out by Robert Mulligan in the clinical evenness of early studio TV. The grimace-a-ton starts early, with young Jimmy (Peter J. Votrian) choking back tears while his badgering dad (Karl Malden) bazookas fastballs at him in a backyard fenced in by wire. One of the great things about baseball, Walt Whitman said, is its ability to "relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set." Thus, the kid grows into Anthony Perkins, quivering away. Big-league scouts come courting but dad is never satisfied, "Was that good enough" becomes the sonís trembling refrain. By the time he meets his future wife (Norma Moore), Perkins is halfway into Psycho, doing that stiff walk with both hands in his pockets and hemorrhaging psychologically: A choice moment has the protagonist waiting for his belovedís call in a hotel room, getting angry at his noisy neighbor and punching a hole on the wall, and then scrambling to rein in his nerves as the phone finally rings. Grids, nets, bars, flood lights -- when the player finds himself alone in the stadium, the roar of the crowd comes as a tremor. The big meltdown follows a homerun, sending him out of the dugout and into the straitjacket, where he works backwards toward a Freudian epiphany. Mulligan calibrates these spasms so timidly that The Three Faces of Eve looks like stylized, barnstorming satire by comparison. The pressures of a ballplayer are tidily resolved rather than examined as wider societal symptoms, though Truffaut in his review praised it as a movie that didnít make him want to live in America. With Adam Williams, and Perry Wilson. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home