But none of that really matters because "The Pride of the Yankees" remains the standard by which all sports biopics, whether of baseball players or anyone else, are judged. Even those who were not weaned and raised on baseball know that the title character is going to die of Lou Gehrig's disease and the film takes full advantage of that foreshadowing: when Gehrig gets into his first game and refuses to come out after being hit in the head by a thrown ball, manager Miller Huggins asks, "What do we have to do to get you out of the game? Kill you?Read more ›
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES is the grand-daddy of all baseball movies. Cooper's performance, as I can't help but keep mentioning, is stellar. Teresa Wright as his wife helps keep the hankies moist but she is also very spunky and strong. Walter Brennan (who also played opposite Cooper in MEET JOHN DOE where John Doe is a semi-pro pitcher) is in a supporting role here but provides desperately needed comic relief.
And perhaps I'm wrong to categorize PRIDE OF THE YANKESS as merely a baseball film. It is about human potential, human frailty, and above all human strength during times of crisis. Lou Gehrig's tragedy occurred during a time of extreme crisis in America, and, I believe, his strong steady public appearances helped the nation through it. PRIDE OF THE YANKEES could easily have been named "Strength of America" in my mind. It's that important a film.
But none of that really matters because "The Pride of the Yankees" remains the standard by which all sports biopics, whether of baseball players or anyone else, are judged. Even those who were not weaned and raised on baseball know that the title character is going to die of Lou Gehrig's disease and the film takes full advantage of that foreshadowing: when Gehrig gets into his first game and refuses to come out after being hit in the head by a thrown ball, manager Miller Huggins asks, "What do we have to do to get you out of the game? Kill you?" Irving Berlin's song "Always" becomes a recurring musical theme throughout the film, another reminder of Gehrig's mortality.
In many ways "The Pride of the Yankees" is more of a love story than a baseball theme. It starts off as a rags-to-riches story, where Gehrig's mother (Elsa Janssen) insists her son will be an engineer and does want him wasting time playing baseball. Eventually the fame and money opens her eyes, but then Lou meets Eleanor Twitchell (Teresa Wright) and has a new "best girl." One of the most impressive aspects of this film is how it touches on the two darker sides of the Lou Gehrig story, the friction between his overbearing mother and his society wife along with the strained relationship that developed between Gehrig and Babe Ruth. The film really only touches on these aspects and Ruth, playing himself, is usually a smiling figure when he shows up on screen, except for when Gehrig is eating his new hat and he is listening to Gehrig's farewell speech.
Cooper was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and even though he is rather awkward and a bit old for the role, he captures the essential dignity and class of Gehrig. It makes sense that one American icon is being played by another. Having been nominated of a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for "The Little Foxes" in 1941 she received another nomination in that category in 1942 for "Mrs. Miniver" and also one for Best Actress that same year for "The Pride of the Yankees." Wright won for "Mrs. Miniver" and lost out to Greer Garson for Best Actress (because of the war the Oscars were made of plaster for the first time, but were replaced by "real" Oscars when the war ended). "The Pride of the Yankees" was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, but only won for Daniel Mandell's Film Editing.
Walter Brennan as sportswriter Sam Blake and Ludwig Stössel as Pop Gehrig provide a lot of the comic relief in the film. Brennan's role is rather low-keyed for him while Stössel has several fine moments where he tries, usually without success, to stand up to his wife. Appearing as themselves are Yankee players Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel, and Mark Koenig, and the familiar voice of Bill Stern makes it on screen as well.
Gehrig's tragic death at the age of 38 makes all of his records even more astounding given that his career was cut short. Sportswriter Jim Murray once described the tall, strong Gehrig as a "Gibraltar in cleats," and "The Pride of the Yankees" provides a sense of that. For me the most poignant scene comes before Gehrig enters Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, when he encounter 17-year-old Billy (David Holt), the lame boy in the hospital (Gene Collins) for whom Gehrig hit two home runs in a World Series game in the film's most extended baseball sequence. The irony that Gehrig could inspire Billy to rise up and walk but Fate had conspired to strike down the Iron Horse who played in 2,130 is enough to reduce most of us to tears before Gehrig ever steps to the plate for the last time to talk about how lucky he is.