Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 14, 1942
Directed by Sam Wood
Written by Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz
Cast: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan, Babe Ruth, Dan Duryea, Elsa Janssen, Ludwig Stossel, Virginia Gilmore, Hardie Albright, Gene Collins, Dane Clark, Frank Faylen, Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, Bill Stern
For me, one of the greatest baseball films ever made, and for many the greatest, a biographical account of famed Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig, who appeared in 2,130 consecutive games over the course of his 17-year career—earning him the nickname ‘The Iron Horse’—until he pulled himself from the lineup when symptoms of ALS began to affect his play. He never again took the field, and the film concludes with his farewell at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, where he delivered a stirring, echoing speech that has achieved a hallowed place in the annals of both baseball and cinema history.
Strangely enough, this was a baseball story that concentrated just as much on the loving relationship between a husband and wife than it did on a ballplayer, but somehow it worked, and worked well; I was entertained not only by Gehrig’s sandlot childhood and collegiate days at Columbia, and his memorable career with the Yankees, but also by the sweet and thoroughly romantic courtship, marriage, and domestic life of Lou and his wife Eleanor, as played by Gary Cooper and a charming Teresa Wright.
This, for me, was where the film excelled: it was enjoyable as both a historical sports story and a romance drama, and credit for that—along with the screen presence of Cooper and Wright—should go to director Sam Wood and the two veteran writers, who wonderfully combined both genres into a captivating whole. But don’t worry, baseball fans, there was still plenty of the game’s myriad facets and details to fill the gaps, from the casting of real-life Yankee players (including a surprisingly delightful Babe Ruth), to well-rendered game action, and to the numerous interior and exterior shots filmed at actual ballparks.
As for Cooper the ballplayer, his portrayal of Gehrig was not only an iconic one, but a convincing one as well, and it’s hard nowadays to imagine anyone else in the role; he played Gehrig as a truly likeable, happy-go-lucky guy, with grit and determination on the diamond and a stoic resolve when dealing with his condition, which I’m sure was a spot-on representation of the actual person. And of course, his farewell speech at film’s end, which has the power to turn any tough guy into a blubbering fool; for me, what followed was even more heavy-hearted, as Cooper, amidst thousands upon thousands of cheers, slowly walked off the field and into the darkness of the dugout tunnel, never to return.
The Pride of the Yankees is worthy of every ounce of praise that has been heaped upon it over the years, and should be on everyone’s must-see list of films, whether you’re a follower of the game or not. And if that doesn’t sway you, then this should: there exist two classic moments related to baseball that never fail to get me misty-eyed when I see them, and the ending to this film is one of those two. The other? Kirk Gibson’s dramatic, game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Seriously, both do it to me every time. (9/10)