[1942] The Pride of the Yankees

The Pride of the Yankees paints Lou Gehrig as the wholesome king of Yankee baseball in an era when Yankee baseball was king in the world of sport and the world of culture. In many respects, he was, if the movie is at least somewhat true. Self-aware and humble to a fault, a man whose mother was his “best girl” even when he married a woman of equal tenacity and warmth, Gehrig prescribed wholesomeness to the masses in a sport dubbed and continually rebranded as America’s pastime. The Pride, capital P, was not of his own accomplishment but to his team, and to his country by proxy. Whether any of the story is absolutely true is irrelevant: there has been a Mr. October and a Mr. November on the New York Yankees in the 75 years since Gehrig died, but The Pride of the Yankees paints Lou Gehrig as Mr. Forever.

This film was so profoundly moving for at least three reasons. The closeness of its creation to Lou Gehrig’s death, the striking accuracy with which Gary Cooper portrayed a man he may or may not have ever met, and the microscopic detail paid to a single man, when the film could have been about the whole team, a completely different team, or a different player all together, and it still would not have been about baseball. But it always was.

The hagiographic nature of this film paints Gehrig as at least saintly and at mostly godlike. Sincere in that level of reverence, The Pride of the Yankees idolizes Number Four as this man who can do no wrong and in his death the man who will perpetually do right. The world, at least as far as American sport reached, still reeled from his passing too soon from a degenerative disease that bears his name. Biographies just do not happen that close to passing. There is not enough time to memorialize and remember what there is to know about a person before the edit is due to the publisher or studio. Details continue to unfold about Gehrig’s life and will continue forever as long as a record of his life, as he lived it, exists. But this extracts a question with no answer: when is too early to remember someone? Are biographies awkward and unnecessary while the person is still alive? Can an unauthorized biography hold any credence, ever? Sometimes the reader just wants to learn about a character that exists or existed at one time. Is this wrong, or more specifically, authentic? Continue reading “[1942] The Pride of the Yankees”

[1952] High Noon

An aging Gary Cooper’s star power wanes in Fred Zinneman’s 1952 western, High Noon.

Throughout much of the film’s scant 85 minute runtime, the characters often wonder aloud and in-depth to one another in anticipation of some event happening – some event no one is even sure will happen. This technique often does wonders for character-driven film, whose setting and plot always take a backseat to exposition, character development and relationship building and especially does magnificent work in the “western” genre, much of whose canon has boiled down to archetypal plot and character assignments.  Couple this narrative with a tight budget and above-average writing, and you could have a winner on your hands – and this one almost was.

But in High Noon, this methodology falls short – the writing is too frank and too choppy; the acting is underutilized and overwrought with cliches. One or more of these faults can create accidental genius (see: Good Will Hunting) and none of these faults creates sterility, but both of these faults create a trainwreck. Gary Cooper is old enough, experienced enough and weather-worn enough to force his character, Will Kane, into believable, but the villains aren’t “real” enough and his supporting cast is dull. This movie is known for helping to launch Grace Kelly’s career, but her evident talent is largely wasted, as her character Amy, threatens to leave on the “noon” train with or without him. Trouble is, Cooper as Kane is believable as a tenacious sheriff but not as Amy’s white knight; so you don’t care if she leaves or not. What a tremendous waste.

Let’s talk a bit about what this movie does right, thought, because it’s still worth watching as a piece of history and as a well-shot Point A To Point B narrative. Mexican actress Katy Jurado is great as a foil to many of the important male leads and some of her dialogue adds an unintentional bit of comedy (in Gen Y standards); her fiery passion helped to break up an otherwise monotonous plot. Yet because of this relatively straightforward story – especially for a western – the film was a box office success and allowed the development of important actors in Kelly and Jurado. Continue reading “[1952] High Noon”