MGM Studios DVD presents
The Pride Of The Yankees (1942)
"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."- Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper)
Stars: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan
Other Stars: Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Bill Stern, Veloz and Yolanda, Bill Dickey, Elsa Janssen, Dan Duryea
Director: Sam Wood
Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 02h:08m:35s
Release Date: 2002-09-17
DVD ReviewPerhaps sports fans were better off generations ago, when athletes were treated like gods striding the earth, when the media turned a blind eye to their inevitable misdeeds, when the sports pages couldn't regularly be mistaken for the police blotter. We don't want our heroes to have human imperfections; we all have enough of those.
And if there's one movie that exemplifies that spirit of hero worship, it is this one. The Pride of the Yankees is the story of Lou Gehrig, famed first baseman for the New York Yankees, teammate of Babe Ruth, immortal for playing 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood for decades until some guy from Baltimore came along. Gehrig's life must have had its share of missteps and poor instances of judgment—for whose isn't?—but the story as told here is a fairy tale, much more Hollywood than the Bronx.
It's clear from the opening crawl what we're in for—it features a sentimental note from the famously hardbitten Damon Runyon, who writes of Gehrig: "He left behind him a memory of courage and devotion that will ever be an inspiration to all men." This isn't sportswriting or biography; it's hagiography.
Legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn must have conceived of this not as a baseball picture, but as one for the whole family—it's the only way to account, for instance, for the prominent billing given to Veloz and Yolanda, a pair of tango dancers. (Gehrig takes his future wife to see them, at a nightclub.) It's also sort of funny to see, among the credited screenwriters, the name of Herman J. Mankiewicz, whose script for Citizen Kane, produced the previous year, is all the things that this isn't: serpentine, jaded, at times nearly contemptuous of its subject. But don't bring that stuff to the ballpark.
Gehrig's tale is in many ways a classically American one—the child of immigrants, he rises to glory on his talent and work ethic. But Gehrig also had some issues with mother, judging from the portrayal here, anyway—she's a cook for a fraternity at Columbia University, and she's eager for her Lou to go to school there and become an engineer, just like dear old Uncle Otto. The Gehrig family also demonstrates a certain amount of dysfunction, too—Lou and his father conspire to keep his baseball career a secret (he goes to play minor-league ball in Hartford, and mother thinks he's at Harvard), and later Lou tries to keep the facts of his illness from his wife. This seems more than just being laconic; it's downright deceptive.
But a Freudian interpretation of this movie is hardly what's appropriate. Gehrig signs with the Yankees, plays with his childhood hero, Babe Ruth, shatters the record for consecutive games played and becomes an American icon. Along the way he meets and marries the lovely daughter of the hot dog king of Chicago, whose single failing may be that she grew up rooting for the White Sox. Only medical misfortune can keep Gehrig out of the Yankee lineup, and he succumbs at an unfortunately young age to the debilitating disease that now bears his name.
In baseball terms, this is pretty basic—from watching this movie, you'd think that Gehrig and Ruth were not merely the entire Yankee roster, but the only two players in all of the American League. It's also of course long before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, so all the players are white, and African Americans appear only in the most peripheral, subservient roles, as shoeshine boys and train porters.
Not to be overly maudlin or gruesome, but once Gehrig gets the girl and is a fixture at first base—about an hour into the movie—you're watching and pretty much waiting for him to get sick. When he does, the movie pushes all the buttons, and yes, the efforts to manipulate the audience are obvious, but they work—you'd have to be deeply jaded or a Red Sox fan not to be touched by Gehrig's last appearance at Yankee Stadium, where he makes his famous final oration. What's kind of a drag about that is that Gary Cooper was obviously shot alone against a projection of the event, and hence his speech lacks the immediacy and emotional impact that remains so powerful in the historical footage from the actual speech.
Cooper is fine as Gehrig, though he seems a little long in the tooth, early on especially, when he's supposed to be a college student. Teresa Wright is perky and cheerful as Ellen, his wife; she doesn't get much more to do than stand by her man (and mix it up now and again with her mother-in-law), but she's very pretty doing so. Babe Ruth plays himself, and he's not even especially convincing at it. Walter Brennan is underutilized as Sam Blake, the sportswriter who appoints himself the high priest of all things Gehrig, and he seems to have been the role model for Ahmad Rashad in his continuous sucking up to Michael Jordan.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Picture quality is rock steady, with solid black levels and nice contrast. Scratches and debris are at a minimum, surely one of the bonuses of being a Samuel Goldwyn production and a perennial favorite. George Steinbrenner's money probably couldn't buy better picture quality on this sixty-year-old movie.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The English-language mono track is pretty clean and free of interference, with only occasional instances of hiss and pop. It's limited, but it has the polish of the most expensive films of the time. The Spanish track has more problems, but I admit to an inordinate fondness to clicking over there and listening to Gehrig talk about himself as "el hombre más afortunado sobre la faz de la Tierra."
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: Chapter stops and subtitles are the only extras, though I like that the disc itself is done up to look like a baseball.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsDespite its subject matter, this is really better as a melodrama than as a baseball picture. Still, the image of Cooper as Gehrig is indelible, and it's a professionally made biopic from a time of Hollywood high style. Handsome presentation on DVD makes this easy to recommend to all but the most die-hard Yankee hater.
Jon Danziger 2002-09-16