"So 'fact-based' that the subject publicly renounced the thing."
Seems we haven't really come all that far in the past 40-some years, at least where Hollywood-style biopics are concerned. "Based on the actual life of Jimmy Piersall" doesn't mean a whole lot after you learn that Mr. Piersall wanted nothing to do with the movie because of all the fluffy melodrama.1957's Fear Strikes Out is the "based on real life" story of one Jimmy Piersall, a supremely talented baseball player...who suffered a nervous breakdown early in his career, only to bounce back and play for 15 more seasons.
Anthony Perkins (yes, that's Norman Bates) plays Piersall as a whiney sort; Karl Malden is his overbearing and stunningly insensitive father. Jimmy hits a double; Dad wanted a triple. Jimmy goes 3 for 4; Dad wanted that fourth hit. The movie goes on like this for well over an hour.
Despite his rather craven personality, Jimmy strikes up a romance with one swell gal, and before too long it looks like the Boston Red SOx are about to come courting. Jimmy's steadfast devotion to baseball and his unflagging work ethic are all about to pay off. But then here comes Pappy again, spouting off again about Jim's weaknesses...and the guy promptly spins off into a dreary shame-cycle.
Less of a 'baseball movie' and more of a black & white (both literally and figuratively) cautionary tale that's light on surprises and heavy on the melodrama, Fear Strikes Out poses simplistic answers to sketchily-conceived issues. Indeed, Piersall himself was reportedly none too pleased with the film, as it simplified his emotional struggles and boiled his problems down to the ridiculously simple conclusion of: daddy made me stressed.
Despite the formulaic approach to the biopic material, Fear Strikes Out does succeed on a few counts: despite a rather annoying case of miscasting, Perkins delivers a performance that, at the very least, is never boring. Malden is a one-note bully, delivering his barbs with a gradually grating intensity. The few baseball sequences enliven the affair, though these bits are few and far between.Much more of an old-fashioned, hand-wringin' soap opera-esque biopic than a true Baseball Flick, Fear Strikes Out is at least worth seeing for curioisity value...though you can currently find the exact same material in your average disease-of-the-week TV-movie.