With sports reassuringly making their way back to dominating our TV channels, it seemed right for this week’s article to look back at the world of sports biopics in Golden Age Hollywood. And whilst the sports of boxing, football and so forth have their own stories to tell – the one highlighted this week is Sam Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees (1942).
The film is based on, and is a tribute to, the legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig, who was the first baseman for the New York Yankees. His death was a tragedy in America, as he died at the early age of 37 to a disease less known at the time: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS – also commonly referred as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’). Having died a year before this film’s release, The Pride of the Yankees is more of a tribute and personal film to the Hall of Famer instead of being the usual sports-heavy affair.
Gary Cooper plays Lou Gehrig in the film and delivers a heartfelt performance in capturing the decline of a man known for his durability. Nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’, Lou Gehrig played a consecutive 2,130 games for the New York Yankees which made his sudden retirement all the more shocking as he was a player built to last. The film’s message is sometimes clouded to further build the drama; it’s highly unlikely the doctor examining Lou said “it’s three strikes” when diagnosing him with a rare incurable disease. But the film remains as a dedication to Lou, and the final scene where he addresses the crowd in Yankee Stadium is an all-timer with one of the most acclaimed movie quotes in history. He tells the fans he considers himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” and the film makes a touching point on these stars that we idolise and call our heroes.
The Pride of the Yankees remains a touching look into one of the first legends in sport, an athlete who benched himself when noting his performance declining for the sake of the team. He was the first player to get his number retired and the Yankees dedicated a monument to Gehrig, lauding him “a man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer.”
Header Image Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.