The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.

Release Date: July 15th, 1942 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Sam Wood Actors: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan, Dan Duryea, Elsa Janssen, Ludwig Stossel, Virginia Gilmore, Babe Ruth

 


 

A

s a young boy, Lou Gehrig gets a fortuitous chance to play baseball with a group of kids – in exchange for a few baseball cards, though he hangs on to one of a rookie named Babe Ruth. Even though he drives a whopper of a hit out of the alley, it whizzes through the glass window of a shop, forcing his poor mother (Elsa Janssen) and father (Ludwig Stossel) to pay for the repair. They want him to stay in school and forget wasting time on sports, but he just can’t seem to get the frivolous activity out of his mind. “In this country, you can be anything you want to be. Don’t you want to be an engineer?”

Years later, things are looking up for Lou (Gary Cooper), as he gets into Columbia University and he joins a fraternity. He even gets attention from the popular girl, Myra (Virginia Gilmore), fueled by his excellence on the baseball diamond. Clearly, he hasn’t completely given up his passion, even though he’s resigned to pursuing engineering as a primary career. But when Sam Blake (Walter Brennan) of the Evening Standard turns up to invite Gehrig to play for the New York Yankees, Lou will finally have to choose between making his parents happy and pursuing his dream.

“Gee, that’s wonderful.” Cooper – at more than 40 years old – has a difficult time being convincing as an athletic college dynamo in his prime (the real Gehrig was actually a teenager during that time, signing with the Yankees when he was only 19); even his running looks stiff and slow. His many efforts at appearing naive and uncertain and childish are comparably flimsy; his face is too weathered and worldly for the virginal role. It’s just as hard to buy into the idea that Pop Gehrig and his son are able to hide for so long the fact that Lou is rapidly becoming a baseball superstar (in an effort to avoid upsetting the matriarch with the disgrace of that profession). Despite the considerable income, she looks down on the sport as a waste – especially when he could have become an engineer. The real Babe Ruth, playing himself, also has a supporting role, sharing a bit of the same incompatibility – since he’s comparably too old to be the unequaled competitor that he was during his heyday in the ’20s and ’30s.

In his first major league game, Gehrig trips over a grouping of bats and then gets hit in the head on his way to second base. But his clumsiness attracts the attention of Eleanor Twitchell (Teresa Wright), whom he’ll soon court and marry. This process eats into the running time, adding details about his unfamiliarity with the fairer sex, while also arranging lengthy sequences for carnival games, a nightclub performance by Veloz and Yolanda and Ray Noble and his Orchestra, and a rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Always” (by Bettye Avery) – components that, though theatrical, add little to the main premise. They do supplement opportunities for romance, however, which will have a bigger impact during the last act.

The first half of the film is a fairly straightforward biopic, zipping through the years with montages and highlights to chronicle Gehrig’s early career, which is admirably free from scandal and controversy (something of a disappointment to sports writer Hank Hanneman [Dan Duryea]). It also contains legendary accounts, such as when both Ruth and Gehrig hit home runs in the New York vs. St. Louis World Series for a hospitalized boy. And though it dances around facts and dates for the sake of entertainment, it does acknowledge the problems Lou faced with his mother interfering in his personal relationships and his impressive record for consecutive game appearances.

“Give it to me straight, doc.” Strangely, it takes a sizable chunk of time before the real – and well-known – conflict arises (here, the ALS diagnosis is left ambiguous, though it wouldn’t have been a mystery for audiences of the era). Three-quarters of the picture is consumed by baseball feats and sentimental romance; the early days of the Gehrigs’ marriage involve vacation-like reveries, play-fighting, and cheery celebrations of statistical achievements (effective in the moment yet ultimately forgettable). In fact, Lou’s physiological decline and prognosis only rear their ugly heads in the final few minutes, leading to a tear-jerking tribute and a powerful speech (using a genuine line: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth”) – one that ranks among the greatest moments ever witnessed on a baseball field, and here a suitably rousing recreation.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10