Directed by Sam Wood
Based on the story by Paul Gallico
Screenplay by Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz
Starring: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan
Even before his days at Columbia University, Lou Gehrig (Cooper) stood out on and off the field. As he transitioned from the college game to professional baseball, Lou Gehrig became an instant star. Over the course of his career he would amass great success in her professional and personal life. Sadly, his career and his life were shortened by a vicious disease. Through it all, Gehrig remained a strong and positive public figure.
Today Lou Gehrig might be most often associated with the terrible disease that took away his career, and eventually his life. This film is a wonderful look at the arc of his legendary career. The story was developed by Paul Gallico (The Poseidon Adventure), and the screenplay was written by Jo Swerling (Made for Each Other) and Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane). All three of these writers earned Oscar nominations for their work. Director Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) brought the film to life with a style that seems fitting for a story about a legend. He was nominated for Best Director for this movie. Interestingly enough, Wood would also go on to direct The Stratton Story which is the true-life account of the shortened playing career of pitcher Monty Stratton. This film stars Gary Cooper (High Noon), Teresa Wright (The Best Years of Our Lives), and Walter Brennan (Rio Bravo). The movie also features a number of cameos from baseball personalities and stars like Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey.
Despite the Hollywood touch on this story, the truth stays nicely intact where it counts. It’s hard to overplay the success that Gehrig had over his career when he was known as The Iron Horse. Thankfully, the movie allows his personal life into the story enough to humanize this legendary ballplayer. Some of the scenes of Gehrig’s early life are a bit hokey, creating a very idealized young Gehrig. As with most American sports history, these moments seem to fall in line with the picture we still hold of Gehrig as an honest, hardworking man who loved his family.
The acting in this movie is actually really great. Gary Cooper is easily the best choice to play Gehrig during this era of film making. His performance is capped off with a great portrayal of Gehrig’s retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Opposite Cooper, Teresa Wright does a wonderful job playing his energetic and strong wife. Walter Brennan, along with the rest of the cast, does a wonderful job helping to fill in the life of Lou Gehrig. Cooper and Wright were both nominated for Academy Awards for their excellent work.
This film, which was released less than a year after Gehrig died, was fortunate to have the willing participation of so many people in the game of baseball. From Babe Ruth to sportscaster Bill Stern, the movie really pushed for authenticity. One interesting exception to this was the location used for shots inside Yankee Stadium. Due to logistic considerations, these scenes were all filmed in Wrigley Field located in Los Angeles. The movie was also a critical success, earning eleven nominations from the Oscars, including those already mentioned. The remaining nominations included Best Cinematography, Best Sound Recording, Best Art Direction, Best Effects, and Best Music. The lone Academy Award win came for Best Editing.
Here’s a small clip from this one.
For fans of baseball, this is a must-see movie. In my opinion, this is one of the three great baseball movies ever made. If you’ve never seen this, it’s worth a watch. I would also recommend this to non-sports fans since it’s a wonderful story told with great actors. This has a good balance of lighter moments, humor, and drama. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.