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The Pride of the Yankees (1942)


Theresa Wright and Gary Cooper
Theresa Wright and Gary Cooper



''The Pride of the Yankees' is a classic American biographical film made in 1942 in black and white, directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan and Dan Duryea. The film is a biopic about the life of baseball player, "Iron Man" Lou Gehrig who actually died in 1941, the year before the film was released. He was a modest man, a special athlete, who rose from humble beginnings to sports stardom. When diagnosed with the cruel wasting disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,) he faced up to his inevitable death with great dignity and courage.

The movie was well received by both the critics and the public and was the highest grossing film which Sam Goldwyn had produced up to that time. It received eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper and Best Actress for Teresa Wright, but won only one Oscar, for Film Editing. Most of the Awards for that year were won by 'Mrs Miniver' and 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'.

'The Pride of the Yankees' was ranked at number 22 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 most inspiring films and at number 3 in its top ten sports films. The famous closing line from Gehrig's farewell speech was voted 38th on the their list of 100 greatest movie quotes.

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Plot

The story of Lou Gehrig's life begins at Columbia University where Gehrig, played by Gary Cooper, has shown a natural aptitude for baseball. Before long Gehrig signs with the team he has always revered, the Yankees. With the help of a sports writer, played by Walter Brennan, he signs up for his favorite team, the New York Yankees. He tries to keep his career move a secret from his controlling mother, played by Elsa Janssen, who wants him to become an engineer.

At a game he meets Eleanor, played by Theresa Wright, and the couple fall in love and marry. Interspersed in the flow of the story are clips and appearances from genuine baseball players such as Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Mark Koenig who add authenticity to the film.

Just when life seems at its sweetest for Lou Gehrig, he is diagnosed with the terrible disease which still bears his name today. The movie shows his bravery in facing up to the effects of the disease and ultimately, to his death. Gary Cooper brilliantly gives Gehrig's stirring farewell speech to his fans at the Yankee Stadium with words that resonate down the years:
"People all say that I've had a bad break," he says. "But today ... today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Production

It was Gehrig's actual farewell speech shown on newsreels in 1939 that prompted Sam Goldwyn to revise his opinion of baseball films as being "box office poison". He realised that Gehrig was not just a sportsman, but an all American hero and success story. Released at the time America was entering the Second World War Goldwyn aimed the movie at a predominantly female audience and the love story side was accentuated together with Gehrig's relationships with his parents, friends and teammates.

Summary

The story is a real tear-jerker and is genuinely moving. The cast is superb, both the professional actors and the sportsmen playing themselves. The whole is well marshalled by director Sam Wood and when you throw in a beautiful Irving Berlin Song, "Always", a favorite of Lou and Eleanor Gehrig, you have a classic Hollywood movie and certainly one of the greatest baseball movies of all time.

Main Cast

Gary Cooper ... Henry Louis 'Lou' Gehrig
Teresa Wright ... Eleanor Twitchell
Babe Ruth ... Babe Ruth
Walter Brennan ... Sam Blake
Dan Duryea ... Hank Hanneman
Elsa Janssen ... Christina 'Mom' Gehrig
Ludwig Stössel ... Henry 'Pop' Gehrig
Virginia Gilmore ... Myra Tinsley
Bill Dickey ... Bill Dickey
Ernie Adams ... Miller Huggins
Pierre Watkin ... Frank Twitchell
Harry Harvey ... Joe McCarthy
Bob Meusel ... Bob Meusel
Mark Koenig ... Mark Koenig
Bill Stern ... Bill Stern

Gary Cooper (1901-1961) All the focus of the movie is on Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and he is the perfect man to portray dignity and strength under restraint. One of the most illustrious names from Hollywood's Golden Age, Cooper began his career in silent movies in 1925 and became famous for his role in 'The Virginian' in 1929, one of the first Talkies. His glittering career included two Best Actor Oscars for 'Sergeant York' in 1941 and 'High Noon' in 1952 and he was nominated for the award a further three times.
Cooper bore a slight resemblance to Lou Gehrig, but he was a natural cowboy, not a sportsman, and his acting skills did not enable him to effectively portray a top class baseball player. At 41 he was not fit and looked too old to play the younger Gehrig. Cinematographer Rudolph Maté earned his Best Editing Oscar by carefully lighting Cooper from below to hide wrinkles. As Gehrig aged through the movie, the lighting was adjusted accordingly. Despite these problems Cooper does a magnificent job of portraying the quiet, retiring Gehrig.
Teresa Wright (1918-2005) interracts perfectly with Cooper to provide the film's romantic interest. She made her film debut in 1941 in 'The Little Foxes' and made an instant impression. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and the following year she received another nomination, this time for Best Actress for her moving portrayal of Lou Gehrig's wife in 'The Pride of the Yankees'. Also in 1942 she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance in 'Mrs Miniver'. She is the only person to have been nominated by the Academy for each of her first three films.
Walter Brennan (1894-1974) was one of the most successful supporting actors in Hollywood, so much so that he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on three occasions between 1936 and 1940.

Credits

Director ... Sam Wood
Producer ... Sam Goldwyn
Screenplay ... Jo Swerling, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Music ... Leigh Harline
Cinematography ... Rudolph Maté
Format ... B & W
Production Company ... Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Distribution Company ... RKO Radio Pictures
Release date ... July 14, 1942
Running time ... 127 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Film Editing ... Daniel Mandell
Ten Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Best Actor ... Gary Cooper
Best Actress ... Theresa Wright
Best Writing (Original Story ... Paul Gallico
Best Writing (Screenplay) ... Jo Swerling, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White ... Perry Ferguson, Howard Bristol
Best Cinematography ... Rudolph Maté
Best Music (Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) ... Leigh Harline
Best Sound, Recording ... Thomas T. Moulton
Best Special Effects ... Photographic - Jack Cosgrove, Ray Binger; Sound - Thomas T. Moulton