‘Pride of the Yankees,' a Film Biography of Lou Gehrig,
With Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright, on View at Astor
by Bosley Crowther
The New York Times, July 16, 1942 page 23
So many hundreds of persons loved Lou Gehrig with a devotion that
few men know and literally thousands of others held him in such true regard
that the film biographers of the modest and valiant ball player assumed
an obligation too ticklish for casual approach. But no one can say that
Samuel Goldwyn has not
been respectful of its due. In a simple, tender, meticulous and explicitly
narrative film, Mr. Goldwyn
and his associates have told the story of Buster Lou with sincere and lingering
affection, in face of which dramatic punch has been subdued. It is called
"The Pride of the Yankees," and it opened at the Astor last night --
and also, for a single performance, in forty neighborhood theatres hereabout.
For months Mr. Goldwyn
had seen to it that the word generally got around that this was not to
be so much the story of Lou Gehrig, the great ball player, as of Lou Gehrig,
a fine and humble man. That advice was absolutely on the level. For "The
Pride of the Yankees" is primary a review of the life of a shy and
earnest young fellow who loved his mother, worked hard to get ahead, incidentally
became a ball player for two reasons -- because he loved the game and also
needed the cash -- enjoyed a clumsy romance which eventually enriched his
life and then, at the height of his glory, was touched by the finger of
It is, without being pretentious, a real saga of American life --
homely, humorous, sentimental and composed in patient detail. But by the
very nature of its subject, it lacks conflict till well on toward its end.
And that is its principal weakness as a dramatic film. For the youth and
early manhood of Lou Gehrig, according to this account, were picturesque
without begin too difficult, beset by shyness more than anything else.
And the same was true of his ripe years and his romance -- at least, in
this film. It is not until illness leads the "Iron Man" into
the valley of the shadow that this story of this life becomes dramatic.
Illness and death are the only adversaries faced by Lou.
In view of the fact that a good three-quarters of this more than
two-hour-long film is devoted to genial details, it inclines to monotony.
This is further aggravated by the fact that the details are repetitious
in themselves. Lou shows his mother he loves her, not once but many times,
and his coy and playful frisking with his wife becomes redundant after
Furthermore, sports fans will protest, with reason on their side,
that a picture about a baseball player should have a little more baseball
in it. Quite true, this one has considerable footage showing stands and
diamonds of the American League, with Lou at bat, running bases and playing
the initial bag. What is shown is accurate. But it is only shown in glimpses
or montage sequences, without catching much of the flavor or tingling excitement
of a tight baseball game. Fans like to know what's the inning, how many
are on, and how many out. At least, the score.
This underemphasis of Gehrig's profession is partially excused by
the fact that Gary Cooper,
who plays the great hero, doesn't look too good slamming or scooping ‘em
up. Mr. Cooper is perfectly
able when it comes to playing the diffident, homes-spun man, and his performance
in the touching final sequence -- the presentation of the Gehrig tribute --
is excellent. He even bears a slight resemblance to the "Iron Man,"
especially about the eyes. But when he's in there snagging the hot ones,
he isn't likely to be mistaken for the real Lou.
The cast is superb, however, and does handsomely under Sam
Wood's direction. Elsa Janssen and Ludwig Stossel are delightful humans
as Ma and Pop Gehrig, and Teresa
Wright has a lovely, gracious quality as Mrs. Lou. Walter
Brennan, Dan Duryea, and
Ernie Adams are a credit to Hollywood in lesser roles, and Babe Ruth --
the real old Babe -- roars and wrangles titanically in a couple of scenes
playing himself. A few other old-time Yankees -- Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig
and Bob Meusel -- are in the background as local scenery, and Dickey even
gets a chance to slug a guy.
As a baseball picture -- in which Veloz and Yolanda, for some reason,
dance -- "The Pride of the Yankees" is not anything to raise the
blood-pressure. But as a simple, moving story with an ironic heart-tug
at the end, it serves as a fitting memorial to the real Lou, who called
himself the "luckiest man alive."
Preceding the feature on the program -- and made at Mr. Goldwyn's
request -- is a deliciously confused Disney cartoon, a goofy burlesque called
"How to Play Baseball."
© 1942 The New York Times