The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Sports Drama  |   Release Date - Jul 14, 1942 (USA)  |   Run Time - 127 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Historically, only a few baseball movies have done well at the box office, mostly because audiences are lukewarm to portrayals of heroes of the diamond. Sam Wood's The Pride of the Yankees, however, is an exception, and an improbable one: neither producer Samuel Goldwyn nor star Gary Cooper knew anything about baseball, and it seemed unlikely that anyone was going to pay money to see a story in which everyone knew the outcome. Goldwyn may not have understood the sport (he thought players got promoted up through the bases, from first base to third, and couldn't understand why Gehrig was such a great player if he was "only" a first baseman), but he understood the public better than almost any other producer. The poignancy of Gehrig's story -- he became a sports hero out of a modest upbringing only to see fate strike him down, and then accepted that fate with heroic stoicism -- might've played well at any time, but the fact that America was heading into a war in which people with would be sacrificing themselves made the material even more topical. Though Cooper threw with the wrong hand -- requiring the film to be flipped, so that players had to run from home to third and wear uniforms with reversed numbers -- he portrayed Gehrig with perhaps even more dignity than the real man possessed, and his romantic scenes with Teresa Wright as Gehrig's wife were warm and honest. Director Wood's understated, unpretentious telling of the tale captured the subject of baseball but also provided a snapshot of Americans in general, and how we wanted to think of ourselves on the eve of World War II.