The Stratton Story

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Sam Wood

REVIEWED: 09-08-97

"You haveto decide; it's either his leg or his life," the doctortells the distraught wife. "But, Doctor, you don'tunderstand," she cries. "He's a baseball player. Hislegs are his life!"

That pretty much sums up The StrattonStory, the true account of Monty Stratton, a professionalbaseball pitcher who shoots his right leg off one day in ahunting accident and tries to overcome the handicap. Stratton isplayed by Jimmy Stewart, and they couldn't have cast a bettercountry-bumpkin of a pitcher, with his lanky frame and endearing"aw-shucks" shyness. Most of the film focuses on hisrags-to-riches journey from his early days with the WagnerWildcats in Texas (where he earns three bucks a game) to seasonsof glory with the Chicago White Sox. Along the way, Strattonpicks up a perky wife, Ethel from Omaha (June Allison), and ashrewd but good-hearted coach/manager (Frank Morgan, better knownas the Wizard himself in The Wizard of Oz). It'srough going at first, and Stratton gets shipped back to the minorleagues for a year or so before finally making it big with theSox. But he manages to buy a fine car, rebuild his mother'sramshackle farmhouse back in Texas, even have himself a Junior.

Then he stumbles over a shotgun whilehunting rabbits, and everything turns black. Stratton becomes arecluse, sulks in his chair, refuses to wear his artificial leg,even taunts the baby when he first learns to walk: "What'sthe big deal? He's got two legs, hasn't he?" Slowly,however, Ethel pulls him out of it, first by getting him to pitchbaseballs into a bucket set up against the barn, and Strattoneven surprises them all by persuading the Western All-Stars tolet him pitch again in an exhibition game. By the ninth inning,he's learned that -- win or lose, two legs or no legs -- it isindeed a wonderful life. Not exactly a surprise ending, but whatdid you expect from a Jimmy Stewart movie?

--Michael Finger

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