Fear Strikes Out

Anthony Perkins, Karl Malden, Norma Moore, Perry Wilson, Peter J. Votrian, Adam Williams. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen). B&W. Dolby Digital. 100 minutes. 1957. Paramount Home Entertainment 05607. NR. $19.99.

Picture ***
Sound ** 1/2
Film *** 1/2

Robert Mulligan's Fear Strikes Out is a psychological drama that plays like a thriller. The true story of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins), who played 17 seasons in the Major Leagues and had the impressive lifetime batting average of .272, the movie focuses on the psyche of the protagonist.

It's not the usual sort of "sports movie"—it doesn't dwell on any specific game in more detail than required to illustrate Jimmy's achievement, preferring instead to examine the relationship between the player and his father (Karl Malden). This formative, all-encompassing relationship between a boy who wanted to please his dad and a father who sought to fulfill his own dream through his son's achievement evolves into one of a young man totally dominated by his father. Coaxed, threatened, and emotionally manipulated—when Jimmy fails to deliver on the field, his father is not above collapsing—Piersall suffers physical and emotional pain, distress, and anxiety that find no release, because he can't talk back to his beloved role model.

In this male-dominated universe, the only solace offered is by women: Jimmy's mother (Perry Wilson), a gentle, forgiving presence, and his young wife, Mary (Norma Moore), a supportive, understanding optimist. But so strong is the older Piersall's hold on his son that the latter suffers a nervous breakdown just when he's about to become a household name.

Fear Strikes Out follows with intelligence and sensitivity the process of Jimmy's healing with the help of a kind psychiatrist (Adam Williams), and the gradual realization of his victimization, followed by forgiveness and self-assertion. Had it not been for this healing process, Piersall wouldn't have been able to resume his baseball career, in real life or on film.

Mulligan was an intensely emotional filmmaker with a background in live television. He managed to inject this material with a breathtaking sense of urgency, and with an intimacy that adds suspense to every moment. The black-and-white cinematography adds a gritty sense of realism to the story, and Anthony Perkins, in his major-film debut, gives a highly nuanced performance that eventually led to his being cast as the titular hero of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

This pristine transfer boasts razor-sharp images that do justice to the beautiful cinematography, clear sound, and consistent focus. Powerhouse entertainment.—DY