The Stratton Story, 1949, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring James Stewart, June Allyson, Frank Morgan, Agnes Moorhead. Directed by Sam Wood. B&W, 106 minutes.
Texas farm boy Monty Stratton (James Stewart) will walk ten miles from his home to pitch in a local baseball game, and it’s at just one of these games that down-and-out former catcher Barney Wile (Frank Morgan) spots him. Barney ends up spending the winter at Monty’s farm, teaching him the fundamentals of pitching. That spring, believing Monty is prepared to try out for a major league team, the two venture to Los Angeles to meet up with the Chicago White Sox during their spring training.
It’s there that Monty meets not only the White Sox manager but a young woman visiting from Omaha named Ethel (June Allyson). Initially Ethel is dismayed to see how “country” Monty is, but once she learns he’s also a gentleman, her feelings change. By the time the baseball season starts the two are in love, and Monty has a contract with the White Sox.
When he’s sent to Omaha to refine his game with a minor league team, Monty proposes to Ethel. Soon, he’s back pitching for the White Sox again, and the two move to Chicago, but they winter in Texas at the family farm. It’s there one day as Monty is rabbit hunting that he accidentally shoots himself in the leg, requiring the leg to be amputated.
But Monty is not about to let a missing leg keep him away from the game he loves.
The film is based on the real-life Monty Stratton, who pitched for the White Sox from 1934 to 1938 and later, after his accident, played minor league ball off and on from 1946 to 1953. Stratton was a technical consultant for the movie and, by example, taught Stewart how to pitch. “He just kept watching me and studying me. Once he thought he knew me and what I was like, that was all he needed. He went right from there and became more like me that I am myself.”
Stewart himself was a bit more humble about what he’d learned. “You don’t have to actually know how to pitch a ball, but you have to look like you know…Stratton was a genius with the ball, so I had to look like a genius, or the picture wouldn’t have worked.”
The Stratton Story was nominated for and won one Academy award: Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. Director Sam Wood had also directed The Pride of the Yankees, based on the career of Lou Gehrig. That film had starred Gary Cooper, and Wood was hopeful he could get Cooper for the role of Monty Stratton, but he was not available. The studio lobbied for Van Johnson, but Stratton himself, who had casting approval, rejected the idea and pushed for Stewart.
Of course, it’s the truth behind this film that makes the story work, although arguably part of what made it a great success in 1949 is its parallel to the lives of so many WWII veterans. It is a movie classic film fans will find worth the watch.
What an honor for Jimmy Stewart that the person he was portraying wanted him for the role. One for one with Academy Awards–not bad at all.
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You’re absolutely right, he had to feel honored, especially since it was a different kind of role for him.
[…] Best Art Direction. It was one of MGM’s top pictures of 1949, along with Adam’s Rib and The Stratton Story (also starring June […]
James Stewart remains the best ever hollywood screen actor. His intensity is more than just palatable, it floods you and shakes you. Look at him, or take him in, in Seventh Heaven, Mr.Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, Navy Blue and Gold, Shop Around the Corner, Its a Wonderful Life, The Stratton Story, Call Northside 77, Malaya, Shopworn Angel, some of the Mann westerns, Glenn Miller Story, Vertigo, Anatomy of Murder, Flight of the Phoenix — his intensity onscreen is astounding. Stewart leaves you awestruck, and you’re rocked more so by the fact that his own real-life values were rather conservative, white upper middle-class and duty-bound militaristic patriotism. You’re left with the question: how did he pull out such deep powerful, democratic-leaning, non-macho, wide-eyed-spirited soul-searching emotions. I’ve seen nearly 70 of his films, some multiple times, and I find him irresistibly watchable, he draws me in every time — even when I don’t love the film. Its Jimmy Stewart’s captivating intensity that I want. He was highly intelligent, intellectually, emotionally and physically, and he was clearly a remarkably courageous man, though his gentle self-deprecating affability belied both his shrewd judgment and his outstanding military career. And I’ve come to believe that he endeavored his entire life, with a self-discipline that overpowered him, to stay faithful to his father’s values. It was this strict self-discipline, powered by his sharp emotional intelligence, that drove him from an early age to be an intense, dutiful, committed and skillful ‘performer’ and ‘achiever’. Blessed with a sweet handsome face, natural romantic grace and an unmatched ability to perform with his whole body (eyes, eyebrows, forehead, lips, mouth, both hands, and arms & legs) he became and still is the best screen actor ever.
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Wow, that’s some testimony–I couldn’t have said it better. He was an incredible actor who brought to life so many wonderful characters. I’m particularly fond of Harvey.
oh yes he’s fabulous in Harvey, he was brave taking on such a diversity of roles. . I’m frustrated by those who dismiss his talent as simply a superb natural onscreen ease. . Yes he had that too, he did indeed convey an amazing natural persona. . But I believe he was much much more ‘skilled’ than that. . In fact most of his roles are imbalanced morally and-or emotionally. . Many of his characters suffer a deep moral dilemma. . In some films, he’s actually morally-offside, as in Rear Window, Vertigo, Anatomy of Murder, Naked Spur, Of Human Heart, even in Its a Wonderful Life he’s not altogether likeable. And just when you think you’re watching old affable Jimmy Stewart, wham !! you’re hit with his moral-emotional intensity.
But looking at his flawless early roles from mid-1930s through to some of his best roles in the late-1950s to mid-1960s, its clear that no hollywood screen actor could match him. Yes overall I see DeNiro as perhaps the second best and Tom Hanks as the third best, and I don’t rank the others though many actors have turned in fabulous individual performances. .
As a study, I highly recommend starting with Seventh Heaven; Next Time We Love; Navy Blue & Gold; Shopworn Angel; The Shop Around Corner; Mr.Washington and Destry Rides (all filmed from 1935 to 1939). The range & skill of James Stewart acting performances in these early films are astounding.
From the 1940s, Come Live with Me; Its a Wonderful Life; Monty Stratton; Malaya; Call Northside377; Magic Town; Rope and You Gotta Stay Happy all together, and again, show his remarkable onscreen range.
From the 1950s he is amazing again in so many diverse characterizations: Harvey, Broken Arrow, Bend in River, No Highway in Sky, Rear Window, Vertigo, Anatomy of Murder.
His best performances in the early to mid-1960s were Mountain Road, Strategic Command, Liberty Valance and Flight of the Phoenix. In all, considering four decades of these amazing, morally diverse & intense characterizations, in which he performed with his whole body and his mind & soul, I find him by far the best screen actor ever.
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