Has there been anyone more charming and warm in movie history than James Stewart? I found myself pondering this throughout much of The Stratton Story, an uplifting albeit dawdling baseball film that doesn’t offer a whole lot outside of the headline star. Amidst a script that starts, stalls and plods along, Stewart is an inspiration who could probably tell ‘Yo Mamma jokes to the Brady clan and Partridge family and still be their best friend.
With his trademark charisma and effortless charm, Stewart had a knack for coming across a genuine, guy-next-door type in many of his roles. The Stratton Story is no different as he goes from a farm boy to ball player and victim of circumstance all a span of less than two hours. His Monty Stratton, just like his George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, all feel like they’re your best friend. It’s a timeless appeal that remains true today, some six decades later.
The Stratton Story is a bio-pic of professional baseball player Monty Stratton. Raised as a farmhand, he is discovered playing for his local hometown team and becomes a walk-on for the Chicago White Sox. In his prime, Stratton is struck by a de-habilitating tragedy that looks to end his career. But if that’s where the story ended, Hollywood would likely not have gone a courting, at least not so soon after WWII.
As a whole, The Stratton Story feels about 30 minutes too long. I understand the desire to key in on the key points of Stratton’s life, but it lacks a lot of flow. There’s so much build-up to various major moments (major league debut, marriage, emergence as star, amongst others) that it plays out more like a decent written biography. Even as a baseball fan, the story of Stratton eluded me until now. Yet, limited background knowledge and all, the film plods along far too slow with so many starting points and finishing points that momentum is never established. Stratton may be a key thread throughout the movie, but there’s not a thematic anchor to tie it all together. It all feels too tidy, like a dish of fine dining where the primary spice is basic table salt.
Baseball has a deep history of inspirational stories to draw from. Monty Stratton certainly qualifies, but as this film stands, I don’t know if he was given justice. I wonder how different the film might have been if it focused more on his personal struggles following the sudden turning point in his life rather than spending so much on the build-up of someone who was so obviously going to make the big leagues. Luckily, Stewart was on hand to charm the heck out of the ball and make The Stratton Story at least worth a gander.
The Stratton Story Gallery