|THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942)|
|"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."|
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Nominations for Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Wright) Art Direction, Cinematography, Special Effects, Score, Sound, Original Screenplay and Best Picture.
Cooper sheds his cowboy stoicism to play the unforgettable ďIron ManĒ of baseball, Lou Gehrig. His sterling performance as one of the most talented players to ever play the game is charming, powerful, enthusiastic, heart-warming and dignified. It showcases a man obsessed with being the best ballplayer he could be while holding on to his humility and humanity. Gehrigís life story unfolds from his humble beginnings to national hero thru the start of the illness that forced him to retire while still in his prime. Though the ultimate outcome of his life is painfully sad the film never wallows in his troubles, but celebrates his accomplishments as a person and a Yankee. Cooper brings great humor and exuberance to the role, making Gehrig an everyday Joe you canít help but like (even if youíre a diehard Red Sox fan like me).
The film opens with Lou starting college, supposedly on his way to becoming a successful engineer. His parents are both immigrants who seek a more secure future for their only son. Lou attends classes at Columbia University (both his parents work there), but is more interested in playing for the college baseball team than he is in schoolwork. He shows some promise, yet must hide his on the field efforts due to his motherís disapproval. When she becomes ill, he accepts an offer from the Yankees to join their organization. It takes a while for him to finally step on the field, but it doesnít take him long to make his mark. His motherís initial disapproval melts away with every mention of him in the newspaper. Life gets even better when he meets the lovely Eleanor (Wright), who eventually becomes his wife.
Their marriage is a happy one and Lou continues to stun crowds with his hard-hitting and unwavering constitution. He becomes more and more popular as he and Babe Ruth bring several pennants to the Bronx, while Gehrig goes on to set the record for most consecutive games played. It would take 50 years for someone (namely Cal Ripkin, Jr.) to surpass him. If it werenít for the disease that shortened his career and eventually took his life, Iím sure his record would still be standing today. While the film is enjoyable up to this point, itís Cooperís subtle and heart-breaking interpretation of the emotional turmoil Gehrig faced when he discovered the truth behind his faltering health that makes this film a true classic. His quiet acceptance of his future and the joy with which he appreciates his life will break your heart and make even the most stalwart watcher shed a tear. Cooper gives one of his best performances here.
That being said, the filmmakers take great liberty with the details of his career and boost the rah-rah attitude at times to almost unbearable levels. Since Gehrig was not one to court the spotlight, thereís not a great deal of depth to the plot or his character. Gehrig was just a regular guy who happened to have an uncanny ability to hit the heck out of a baseball. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time and certainly made the most of his opportunities. He played baseball for the glory (there wasnít a great deal of money in it in those days) and because it was a lot more fun than engineering. True baseball fans will probably take issue with all the inaccuracies, but for those of us in the dark about Gehrigís life the details are unimportant. This isnít a documentary. Itís a film that tries to capture (and capitalize) on the remarkable life and untimely passing of a great American hero.
Itís corny in spots, sweet and funny in others, ultimately delivering a highly entertaining experience that has something for everyone. Thereís romance, rivalry and clubhouse ribbing. Babe Ruth plays himself in several scenes and has so much charisma you wonít be able to tear your eyes off him. If Cooperís version of Gehrig is even remotely close, itís no wonder Ruth got more attention on and off the field. As for the baseball sequences, there arenít as many as one would expect for such an accomplished player. The reason behind this is that Cooper was not very athletic and right-handed to boot. So, they not only had to teach him how to bat, but also had to reverse the film (and everything in it including the lettering on the costumes) so it would appear that he was batting left-handed. Itís quite an impressive feat once you realize how they solved the problem This, of course, made filming difficult, so the bulk of the story had to be moved off the field. Lucky for us, the cast is more than up to the challenge.
For fans of the game (or Cooper), PRIDE OF THE YANKEES is a film not to be missed. A movie, along with BULL DURHAM, to be trotted out at the beginning of every spring training to help one appreciate the beauty, joy, and for many disappointment, that will be experienced over the upcoming season. Like baseball, this film is far from perfect, yet it holds a special place in oneís heart for itsí honest simplicity and never-give-up mentality. Itís a meaningful, if not exactly truthful account of one manís rise to fame and what he learned along the way. So, grab some popcorn, crack open an ice-cold beer and settle in for a wholesome, nostalgic cinema treat.