1942

Film #105: The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Even my closest friends will attest to the fact that my sporting knowledge is weak to say the least. However, one sportsman I have heard of is Babe Ruth who appears as himself in our next film The Pride of the Yankees, which tells the story of one of his New York teammates Lou Gehrig.


Gehrig died tragically aged only 37 and this film was made and released the year after his death. Gary Cooper was cast in the role of Gehrig which is an odd choice seeing as Lou is in his 20s for the majority of the film and Cooper was in his 40s by this stage of his career. Despite this Cooper is still a decent actor and does his best to show Gehrig from being scouted by The Yankees to becoming the most reliable player on the team. The film also concentrates on three of the most important relationships in his life. Firstly that between Gehrig and his parents, his understanding and down-to-Earth father and his interfering mother. The relationship with his mother is one of the film’s most interesting as she argues with everyone that Lou should be an engineer and not a baseball player even though he has an obvious talent for him. The second relationship is between Lou and the sportswriter Sam Blake played by Walter Brennan. Blake is the man who sees potential in Gehrig and persuades the Yankees to give him a try out, Blake later becomes Gehrig’s confident and always stands up for him. And finally there is Gehrig’s romance with Eleanor Twtichell who he first meets when she watches one of his games. Their relationship is basically without turmoil apart from some interfering from his mother. They get married and although she does get a little tired of being a baseball star’s wife she doesn’t stop loving Lou. Although tragically the final third of the film looks at Lou becoming ill and gets a fatal motor neuron disease which would later go on to become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou keeps on playing as long as he can but one day he realises that he has to be pulled from the team and makes a last minute decision not to play. The film ends with Gehrig’s goodbye speech to the fans which must’ve been a fairly poignant moment to the original film audience as Gehrig had just died.

The film itself is average at best primarily because it’s a very traditional biopic however most of Gehrig’s life is really without incident. A lot of the scenes depict life on the road with the baseball team; most of them playing themselves, Babe Ruth in particular sends himself up as a big-headed moron who the rest of the team play pranks on. The acting isn’t too bad either Walter Brennan is possibly the cast’s MVP as Sam Blake he just plays an ordinary decent bloke. Despite being too old for the part Cooper still gives it his all and manages to give a sympathetic performance and both he and Teresa Wright, as his wife, were nominated for Oscars. But by today’s standards the film is incredibly cheesy, there is an extended segment in which Gehrig promises to hit a home run for a kid in hospital which he obviously does and later in the film the kid who has now grown up comes to see Lou say his farewell. The film was nominated for a total of eleven statues but only managed to win one award, which was bizarrely for editing but it lost out to Mrs Miniver in the Best Picture category. I think this one would probably work if I understood and cared about baseball a bit more but sadly that’s never going to happen.

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