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The Pride of the Yankees

Ring a Ding Ding

Pride of the Yankees (1943)

     I think one of Gary Cooper’s greatest gifts is that although he seemed well suited for playing powerful, strong, intelligent men, he could just as easily play a naive, humble gent who is completely oblivious he is the almighty Gary Cooper. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is one such example as is The Pride of the Yankees.

     Like most classic-era biopics, The Pride of the Yankees takes some liberties in the telling of the life of baseball great Lou Gehrig. Although it maintains that the young man attended Columbia University to study engineering, how he got in is another story. In order to establish his mother as a loving, yet persistent force in shaping her son’s career, Gehrig is depicted as getting into school on his mother’s cooking there. Instead he attended on a football scholarship. Mother Gehrig (Elsa Janssen) in the movie pushes her boy to be an engineer like his uncle and is adamantly against a sports profession, so when Gehrig signs with the New York Yankees, the young athlete and his father conceal it from the mother, who is now ailing in the hospital and in need of money to support her stay. She learns the truth when the papers proclaim Gehrig’s call up to the major leagues where he (accurately) goes on to play 13 years without missing a game.
     In the movie, Gehrig meets his future wife Eleanor, played by Teresa Wright, when he goes up to bat for the Yankees the first time and slides across a row of bats on the ground. Sitting in the front row, this daughter of the hot dog king calls him “tanglefoot” and starts a barrage of laughter in the stands. Gehrig manages to see her off the field and the two hit it off, eventually marrying. When Gehrig becomes weak and is eventually handed an unfavorable diagnosis, the man forbids all in the know from telling his wife of his fate, but Eleanor knows it anyway. The film closes on a high note with Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, held in reality in 1939, two years before his death.
     Pride of the Yankees was released two years after the legend died and is an amiable tribute. Cooper does a tremendous job playing the simple, rather unremarkable personality Gehrig is said to have had. He is a very honest, unselfish character, which makes him easy to love and easy to miss for any moviegoer. The only drawback I saw to the movie is that Cooper, 42 at the time of the movie’s release (two years older than Gehrig would have been that year), is unable to hide his age in playing college-age and early ball-playing Gehrig. The crows feet that form with his smile belie his age, making a good portion of the movie unrealistic in appearance. Wright, on the other hand, was appropriate looking for the younger years of the couple, but the only aging she does is via slight modifications to her hair and clothing styles. The same can be said of Babe Ruth, who plays himself. Although his performance is fine, he looks beyond ball-playing age. If not for these complaints, the film would be near perfect.
Source: LouGehrig.com

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