The Pride of the Yankees, despite its flaws, makes for appropriate viewing on Lou Gehrig Day, which is now celebrated in baseball.
Gehrig passed away on this date in 1941. He never did live to see the film, which earned 11 Oscar nominations and winning one for editing. The editing is certainly well deserved given that Gary Cooper never played baseball before signing onto the film. This is what the reports say. Many reports say that the Yankee uniform was flipped for scenes in which Cooper was seen throwing and hitting the ball. These reports might actually be false. But in any event, it took viewing the Yankee Stadium speech producer Samuel Goldwyn to produce the film. For what it’s worth, the film changes up Gehrig’s speech for more dramatic impact.
“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today…today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
In the film, Lou Gehrig closes his farewell address with these words. However, the film decides to change it up for dramatic impact. It works. You couldn’t blame screenwriters Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz for doing so. By changing the speech, they give audiences a moving moment, framed with all the dramatic effect, and it leaves you feeling all the feels. But this is the tricky part with biopics–how do you keep all the accuracy while still appealing to movie goers?
The biggest thing and perhaps one of the biggest flaws about The Pride of the Yankees is that it stretches far too many years in Gehrig’s life. I mean, it’s one thing for a prologue as a child before cutting away to Gehrig as an adult. But it’s another to have Gary Cooper portray Gehrig even as a young man. Rudolph Maté’s cinematography might help with trucker but it can only do so much.
When Gehrig died two years after his last game in 1939, he was only 37 years old. He was 19 years old upon making his MLB debut. Cooper himself was 41 years old when the film went into production. Listen, I like Gary Cooper and there’s no argument about his resemblance to Gehrig. It’s just that it’s not easy buying into his playing Gehrig at a younger age. This is certainly my biggest problem with watching the film. Maybe with today’s technology, they would have been able to use CGI to de-age Cooper in the role. It goes without saying that I’m not applying today’s standards to a film released in 1942. I just have a big problem when biopics stretch over a lengthy period of time.
A number of New York Yankees players play themselves in the film including Hall of Famer Babe Ruth. It’s hard to imagine this film without The Great Bambino but at the same time, his health wasn’t exactly the best when shooting his scenes. In other baseball scenes, Gehrig is seen hitting homers during games where it didn’t happen.
There’s no denying that The Pride of the Yankees is a classic sports film but it suffers like so many biopics in covering too much time in just over two hours.
DIRECTOR: Sam Wood
SCREENWRITERS: Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz
CAST: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan, and Babe Ruth