Parenthood is the trickiest of crafts. Every hope that one’s children will grow up to be their own true selves is shadowed by the urge to yell, ”Be just like me!” The potter’s clay has a personality: Lay the hands on gently and the resulting vase could turn out to have a strong and unexpected shape. Throw it too hard, and it warps and fractures.
Fear Strikes Out, in particular, looks like Shine‘s long-lost twin, right down to Karl Malden’s uncanny physical resemblance to Mueller-Stahl. Malden plays a pugnacious, never-say-die dad to Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins), the Boston Red Sox outfielder who suffered a nervous breakdown on the field in 1952. Perkins, while well on his twitchy way to Norman Bates, is deeply sympathetic as the victim of a Little Leaguer’s worst nightmare, doing his damnedest even as Piersall Senior constantly criticizes, never congratulates, and assures his son that, hell or high water, ”Nothing can stop us.”
This being a ’50s liberal problem pic, electroshock treatment and enforced institutionalization are seen as benign forces for good, and patriarchal authority is bad, bad, bad. Such dated palliatives aside, though, Fear holds up well, and the climactic showdown between father and son offers a tremendously appealing resolution. A-