The only thing worse than an authorized sports biography is a 40-year-old Gary Cooper trying to act like a teenager, and The Pride of the Yankees (1942) has both in spades. Cooper stars as doomed baseball icon Lou Gehrig who, before succumbing to a disease (ALS) that would commonly bear his name, was a perfectly swell guy who set a record for consecutive games played. You know what's more boring than movies about perfect people? Nothing. Add to that a disease-of-the-week final act, and there seemingly isn't any mainstay of awful movies that The Pride of the Yankees (1942) doesn't take a swing at.
It's hard to conceive of a review of The Pride of the Yankees (1942) that isn't simply a laundry list of complaints. Unless one is somehow in the thrall of the cult of Gehrig — who, if accurately depicted, I imagine would be soulfully embarrassed by this cornball spectacle — there is not a single positive quality outside the wasted efforts of Teresa Wright (as Gehrig's wife, for whom children never seem to be a concern) and Walter Brennan (as a sports journalist who is uncomfortably cozy with his subjects). It's at least 45 minutes too long, stuffed with stupid gags and digressions (if you need unrelated nightclub song and dance numbers in your sports dramas, you'll get them here, and may God have mercy on your soul) and head-fake melodramas, maybe because of the inherent emptiness of the overall concept: baseball player was a good guy and then he died. There are no conflicts that are not either effortlessly reversed and/or forgotten, except for death, because death doesn't give a shit about wholesome man-children or baseball records or bad movies. Everything is saccharine and devoid of energy because it's a hero worship exercise that is completely incurious about its subject.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of The Pride of the Yankees is the contradiction between how Gehrig is depicted as the consummate professional who never missed a game until his health failed him, and yet also as a thoughtless dope who decides to get married when he should be warming up for a game, or chases idiotic promises made to gimpy children in defiance of his coach's orders. Note that when I say "most interesting," I don't mean "actually interesting;" that's just the best crack in the smug facade this movie has to offer to anyone probing it for something else. Babe Ruth appears as himself, so that's something (but not much).
Director Sam Wood is notable for his earlier work with The Marx Brothers on A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), which is maybe why the infinite dead space in The Pride of the Yankees is filled with dumb gags. But there's no sign of Marxian subversiveness in the gags or anything else. Both Wood and Cooper began their careers in silent movies and there does seem to be some carryover here from the simpler ideas and performance styles of a bygone era. Cooper is, weirdly for someone of his size and manly appearance, a face-puller, prone to goofy mugging reactions, as if he fancies himself an heir to Chaplin, but it doesn't work on him. And, when he's not affecting one of those uncomfortably too-cute expressions, Cooper often looks like he's only acting at the behest of extortionists, blackmailers, or kidnappers. He is woefully ill-at-ease on camera, which can work for a reluctant, pressured character like Will Kane in High Noon,(1952), but makes for a squirmy romantic or comedic lead.
The Pride of the Yankees is essentially everything I fear about classic-era movies rolled into one soggy self-congratulatory tube sock of Hollywood bullshit.