Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1942 - The Pride of the Yankees

Happy New Year to all my readers! It would perhaps be a little obvious if I were to make a resolution to pick up the pace of this project, but I sincerely hope to do so in 2013. (Otherwise, it may take decades to complete!)

Anyway, 2012 was a big year for other activities in my life. I started a theatre company with my wife. We produced two successful shows, our most recent even receiving a positive review from the Huffington Post. I also made my U.S. network television debut with a small role on Law & Order: SVU. Well, technically, I suppose, the debut will be when it airs on January 9th on NBC, so set your DVRs.

The last film watched for Matt vs. the Academy in 2012 was another nominee from 1942's Best Picture contest...

The Pride of the Yankees
Sam Wood
Jo Swerling, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Paul Gallico
Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Babe Ruth, Walter Brennan, Dan Duryea, Elsa Janssen, Ludwig Stossel
Academy Awards:
11 nominations
1 win, for Best Film Editing

A touching biopic that covers the life and times of legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig (Cooper), The Pride of the Yankees follows him from his start in college baseball through to his record-breaking career with the New York Yankees. With the encouragement of his father (Stossel), the eventual acceptance of his controlling mother (Janssen) and the ongoing support of sportswriter Sam Blake (Brennan), Gehrig became a baseball star with wife Eleanor Twitchell (Wright) by his side.

It is somewhat fitting that The Pride of the Yankees came directly after Yankee Doodle Dandy in this project. Aside from the presence of the word 'Yankee' in their titles, they both are fascinating biographies of much-loved American heroes, one a song-and-dance man, the other a baseball legend. While they may seem to be two disparate careers, they are linked by the way in which they so successfully captured the hearts of their fans. They were also both extremely dedicated to their respective crafts, giving all their time to their chosen professions.

However, the similarities perhaps end there. Whereas Cohan was brash, confident and extroverted, Gehrig was shy, quiet and introverted. Gehrig also had his fair share of obstacles on his way to the top, the lack of such I lamented in Cohan's story. Gehrig's struggles, consequently, are what make The Pride of the Yankees the more fascinating of the two biopics.

If I were to find flaw in The Pride of the Yankees, I suppose it would be in the occasional shifting of genres. The majority of the picture is clearly a dramatic biography with a love story at the forefront, yet some overblown comedy creeps in, specifically in the characters of Gehrig's parents. The drama, too, sometimes feels overwrought and contrived, particularly when Gehrig's mother displays her overbearing nature towards Eleanor. Nonetheless, the final portion of the film, while admittedly sentimental, is both moving and inspiring.

Gary Cooper (pictured) is wonderfully cast in the lead, his awkward yet amiable persona earning him a Best Actor nod. Teresa Wright also delivers a strong performance as Gehrig's wife, nominated for Best Actress, and while she didn't win this one, she won a Supporting Actress Oscar the same year for Mrs. Miniver. The real surprise in the cast is Babe Ruth. Yep, that's actually Yankees legend Babe Ruth playing himself, pulling off one of the most natural performances by an athlete-turned-actor. Ruth appears very comfortable in front of the camera, lively and fascinating to watch.

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention Ludwig Stossel, who plays Gehrig's father, only because this is the man who, in another film, utters what is possibly my favourite line in cinematic history. When we get to reviewing 1943, I'll elaborate, but for now, enjoy this.

1 comment:

  1. The Iron Man of baseball is certainly a good choice for a bio-pic. Today, most associate Lou Gehrig with the disease named after him, but his accomplishments on the baseball field are truly monumental. He was a genuinely nice guy with a remarkable lack of ego for such a talented player. His famous Yankee teammates would make up for that.

    Gary Cooper was an excellent as the lead, even if he was a bit old for playing the young Gehrig. That was Hollywood's practice back then. James Stewart would do the same in "It's a Wonderful Life."

    It is hard not to get choked up at the end, especially with the famous farewell address (parodied by Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle). The screenplay was serviceable and typical of the biographies of the time. Ever notice how the lingo of the sport always seems to creep its way into the dialogue of those bio pictures - "Let me have it straight, Doc. Is it three strikes against me?"

    All in all, a worthy nominee for 1942.