“This is the story of a hero of the peaceful paths of everyday life.

It is the story of a gentle young man who, in the full flower of his great fame, was a lesson in simplicity and modesty to the youth of America.

He faced death with that same valor and fortitude that has been displayed by thousands of young Americans on far-flung fields of battle. He left behind him a memory of courage and devotion that will ever be an inspiration to all men.

This is the story of Lou Gehrig.”

(Image via Sports Illustrated)
(Image via Sports Illustrated)

The Pride of the Yankees opens with this quote from Damon Runyon on title cards. Tracking Gehrig’s life from childhood through his “luckiest man” speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939, this film stars Gary Cooper (as Gehrig), Teresa Wright, Babe Ruth and Walter Brennan. The film was directed by Sam Wood and written for the screen by Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

I feel like I’ve mentioned about a million times on this blog that I’m not huge on sports movies. I enjoy watching my teams play (the Red Wings and the Tigers, for the record), but I’m not an expert on any game and I usually don’t find myself able to get very deeply invested in movies about sports. There are a few that I love, though, and this one can now be added to the list.

The common thread I find in sports movies that I do love is that they go beyond their sport to tell great stories about human life. Their scripts are well-crafted and they do something more than just focus on the game.

The Sandlot is not just a movie about baseball, but a coming-of-age tale and a reflection on the adventurous nature of childhood. A League of Their Own touches on wartime struggles and the issue of gender equality. The stellar television series Friday Night Lights is about the frenzied world of Texas high school football, but is very character-driven.

And The Pride of the Yankees, more than just being a biopic of a famed professional athlete, is a story of a man who follows his passion and faces his hardships with grace.

The real Gehrigs (Image via New York Daily News)
The real Gehrigs (Image via New York Daily News)

I was very impressed by Gary Cooper’s performance. This biopic celebrates Lou Gehrig not only as a talented baseball player, but also as a kind, genuine human being. Cooper plays Gehrig as introverted, humble, hard-working and sweet — a man of character. And I don’t think I have to tell you how great Cooper’s final speech, the film’s most famous scene, is. He does look a bit too old for the role as college-aged Gehrig, but that’s only a minor issue.

Cooper’s chemistry with Teresa Wright, who co-stars as Gehrig’s wife Eleanor, also adds a lot of appeal to the film. The two performers work well together and make the romance just as worthy of watching for as the story of Gehrig’s career. With two less-compatible actors, the romantic scenes may have seemed like a distraction rather than a worthwhile part of the film.

Equal parts sentimental love story, baseball flick and inspirational tale, The Pride of the Yankees is well worth a watch. The score: 4.5/5