Henry “Lou” Gehrig (Gary Cooper, High Noon), the only son of poor German immigrants, dreams about playing Baseball. After joining the Yankees in New York, Gehrig soon becomes the number one player, even managing to eclipse the team’s most famous player, Babe Ruth. Unfortunately as he finds happiness in and out the Baseball field, Gehrig becomes ill with the disease that will later carry his name.
Reaction & Thoughts:
For many sports fans Baseball is a sacred event that shows human beings at their finest. Some of you may even go so far as to say that there is something magical about the competitive nature of the aforementioned sport event.
For me Baseball has always been a source of irritation and boredom –- I avoid it like the plague, and there is nothing in this world that could convince me to sit down and watch a game on TV. For reasons that are unknown to me, I have never been able to see the larger-than-life qualities that most people attribute to Baseball. However, over the years, I have literally fallen in love with various films that deal one way or the other with the world of Baseball.
The Bad News Bears (1976), The Natural (1984), and Field of Dreams (1989) are good examples of movies about Baseball that I treasure, despite my obvious disdain for the actual sport. However, my favorite Baseball film is Samuel Goldwyn’s The Pride of the Yankees, a marvelous biography about the famous Yankee legend Lou “The Iron Man” Gehrig.
The Pride of the Yankees avoids the temptation of exploiting the film’s sport angle, concentrating instead in telling a remarkably powerful personal drama. Producer Goldwyn instructed the writers — Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jo Swerling and Paul Gallico — and director Sam Wood (Goodbye Mr. Chips and For Whom the Bell Tolls) to concentrate on the relationship between Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, played by Teresa Wright (The Best Years of Our Lives). Also, Wood and cameraman Rudolph Mate (Dodsworth and Stella Dallas) wisely use many close-ups, successfully keeping a certain intimacy between the characters and the audience.
The film recreates most of Gehrig’s triumphs on the diamond field with great exactitude, but we should not overlook the finery displayed in the quieter, intimate moments. This nice balance between these two contrasting approaches is what makes the film such a rewarding experience, especially for non-sports fans. This is Hollywood so the movie plays with facts, but The Pride of the Yankees stays true to the spirit of Gehrig’s remarkable story.
The Pride of the Yankees tells an effecting story about one of Baseball’s most respected and beloved figures. As portrayed by Cooper, Gehrig was not only a man deeply committed to the Baseball game, but also a decent and warm human being. Cooper achieved his dead on performance by carefully studying newsreels of the famous Yankee player. Although Cooper is really too old for the role, he becomes Gehrig right before our eyes. Cooper’s recreation of Gehrig’s famous farewell speech at the Yankee stadium is by now part of the American film folklore, one of cinema’s most moving sequences.
Wright is terrific as Mrs. Gehrig. If Cooper was too old, Wright was a bit too young. It really doesn’t matter. Cooper and Wright are fantastic. You respond emotionally to the movie because you believe they are the real thing. The cast also includes Walter Brennan (A Stolen Life) and Dan Duryea (The Little Foxes) as a pair of sportswriters. Special guest appearances by Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Bill Stern, Bob Meusel, and Mark Koenig as themselves.
The musical score is mostly composed of variations of the famous tune “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Goldwyn was so concerned about people rejecting a sports film that he decided to add an Irving Berlin song, “Always,” to the movie and even went as far as to ask then popular dance duo Veloz & Yolanda to appear in the film. I get what he was trying to do, but this is the only section in the film that feels completely unnecessary.
The incredible sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind). Kudos to editor Daniel Mandell (Wuthering Heights and The Apartment) and the visual effects team for tricking the viewer into believing that right-handed Cooper was a southpaw — shrewd editing and undetectable technical wizardry (the image was flipped) helped create the necessary illusion.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. At the time the film was released, many proclaimed The Pride of the Yankees as one of the best sports movies ever made. I’m not sure if I want to argue against that statement. Certainly I would not argue with anyone about its excellence — it’s a really good movie about a really good person. I would like to add that the film also works as a touching love story. B&W, 127 minutes, Not Rated.