The Stratton Story (1949)

Directed by Sam Wood

Transport Sam Wood seven years into the future and give him the tragic, but courageous and inspiring, story of a baseball player not quite as good as Lou Gehrig and what you’ll get is a newer movie from Sam Wood that’s not quite as good as The Pride of the Yankees. But The Stratton Story is very much in the same vein as that film, and that is not at all to the detriment of this one. In many ways, mirroring the success of The Pride of the Yankees is a very smart path to take with the story of Monty Stratton, a Texas farm hand who was discovered playing the game for fun, only to become a Chicago White Sox and become a dominant American League pitcher. The difference between Stratton and Gehrig, however, is that what happens to Stratton is not terminal, as it is for Gehrig. Stratton faces an impossible hurdle to his career, but with the right support from his loving mother, and wonderful wife, Monty have the wherewithal to overcome anything for his passion for the game of baseball.

Once again, the lead casting is seemingly perfect for the part. James Stewart (my favorite all time actor) is the perfect kid down the street who just loves to play the game of baseball, humble beyond his impressive talent and eager to just have fun and support his family. It may not be one of his more memorable roles, or better performances, but Stewart’s Stratton is endearing and loving all the same. And the chemistry he shares with June Allyson makes for a great on screen couple. Perhaps my favorite moment between the two is the scene where they close down the bar, not drinking, but dancing the night away. A truly loving and touching moment in the film (very reminiscent of the scene in The Pride of the Yankees when Lou and Ellie make sure each other doesn’t need a “vacation” from each other; spoiler alert, they adorably don’t).

The baseball star cameos aren’t the greatest, which will likely be a common theme in this marathon (at least until we get to Junior in Little Big League  ;)). Jimmy Dykes in particular is rough as himself, the White Sox manager. But that aside, the film really is a warm story worth cheering for. The Stratton Story just seems to lack the luster and prestige of Pride, yet that hardly makes it a film not worth watching. The film world is full of films like this, the good to great films that are often overshadowed by the larger, better films that find themselves at the top of a genre, but when you look just below that cream at the top, there are a good number of really enjoyable, heartwarming stories worth spending time with.

*** – Good

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