Thursday, November 17, 2016

Retro Review: THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we review the Lou Gehrig biopic, THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. If you're anything like me, you might know that Lou Gehrig was a baseball player, but beyond that you probably only know him by the disease that was named after him. Since I know nothing about the history of the man, I can't really comment on how accurate The Pride of the Yankees is with its portrayal of the life of this legendary athlete. As a movie, though, The Pride of the Yankees is worth watching for a whole stable of reasons.

First of all is the film's star, Gary Cooper, in the role of Gehrig. If you've never seen a Gary Cooper performance before, this is the place to start. Cooper is utterly charming in the role, playing Gehrig with a warmth and humility that endear him to us instantly. Gehrig is remembered as one of the great heroes of baseball, and Pride comes from an era when heroes were still portrayed in a positive light, arguably to a fault. Pride makes Gehrig out to be pure as the new-fallen snow. There's a scene early on where two reporters talk about how Gehrig lacks "personality", meaning he doesn't get up to any trouble. Again, I don't know how much liberty the story is taking with Gehrig's character, but the way Gary Cooper plays him, I want to believe it's more fact than fiction.

Baseball fans will get a kick out of Pride's casting, including a number of the men who were Gehrig's real-life teammates on the Yankees, appearing as themselves. One of those teammates was the legendary Babe Ruth, Gehrig's boyhood hero, and Ruth appears in the film as himself. It's not the Babe's first film credit, or his only one, but it was his last. Ruth's legacy was established when this movie was filmed, so you'll notice that the shots he appears in are set up so that Ruth subtly dominates each one, but that's understandable. Hollywood's always loved sports legends of that caliber.

The film itself vacillates between good-natured humor and sappy sentimentality, but it never feels as though the film can't make up it's mind about which it wants to be at any given time. That said, no age of movies seems able to resist portraying romance in an overly-idealized way, and Pride is no exception. Maybe I'm jaded -- heck, I probably am -- but the love scenes in this movie were the low point for me, portraying Gehrig's childlike innocence, and the love between Gehrig and his wife, with a purity that strikes this cynical twenty-first century man as an impossibility.

This being the story of Lou Gehrig, the final act of the film concerns itself with Gehrig's decline and eventual retirement from baseball. The film ends with the ceremony that was held to honor him in his final appearance at Yankee Stadium, and Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech. This is the only time that I found a problem with the film's pacing, as we're shown a kind of fast-forward summary of the ceremony leading up to Gehrig's speech as narrated by a motor-mouthed radio announcer. The film makes time for Gehrig's entire speech, though, and Gehrig makes it one for the ages. The film's final shot is a haunting reminder of the temporary nature of all things: Gehrig walking away into the darkness of an unlit hall, as we hear the umpire give the call to start the game. The man has barely left the field, and the world is already moving on without him. It's almost as if director Sam Wood was afraid Gehrig would be forgotten. Or maybe its just an acknowledgement of the fickle nature of hero worship in professional sports: heroes are only heroes so long as they stay on the field. There's always someone ready to take their place the minute they leave.

The Pride of the Yankees shows it's age in terms of the film's dialogue, but this is still among the best sports movies I've had the privilege to watch. I'm not a sports fan -- at all -- but I enjoy a good sports movie, and The Pride of the Yankees is a very good one.

I wasn't able to find a trailer for this one, but it turns out the entire movie is available on YouTube, so I've linked that here instead.

The Pride of the Yankees is not rated.

Robert's Score: 8/10

Make sure to check us out and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all of our reviews, news, trailers, and much, much more!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment