(director: Sam Wood; story by Paul Gallico/screenwriters: Jo Swerling/Herman J. Mankiewicz; cinematographer: Rudolph Mate; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Leigh Harline ; cast: Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), Teresa Wright (Eleanor ‘Twitchell”Gehrig), Babe Ruth (Himself), Dan Duryea(Hank Hannemann), Walter Brennan (Sam Blake),Bill Dickey(Himself), Bob Meusel(Himself), Mark Koenig (Himself), Elsa Janssen (Mom Gehrig), Ludwig Stossel (Pop Gehrig), Ernie Adams (Miller Huggins), Harry Harvey(Joe McCarthy), Bill Stern (Himself), Addison Richards (Coach), Hardie Albright (Van Tuyl ), Virginia Gilmore (Myra); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; RKO; 1942-B/W)

It’s perceived by many film-goers as the best baseball sports biopic ever. It might be right, but only by default..

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A hero-worshiping efficient but superficial sports biopic based on the legendary Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), the player who never missed a game in 14 years (playing in 2130 consecutive games) until stricken in 1939, when only 34, with the fatal ALS disease better known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Baseball stars such as Babe Ruth (recovering from a heart attack at the time), Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel, and Mark Koenig appear in cameos, as do announcer Bill Stern. Sam Wood (“For Whom The Bell Tolls”/”A Night At The Opera”) directs in a workmanlike manner this stunningly photographed B/W film by Rudolph Mate. It’s acrowd-pleasing biopic on the Yankee legend, considered by many to be the best first baseman ever, who died a year before the film was made. The filmmaker is intent on showing no warts for Gehrig even if he might have had some, and avoids showing his jealousy of being in the shadow of the Babe. It won an Oscar for the editing by Daniell Mandel. The story is by Paul Gallico and is written more for emotional appeal than accuracy by Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz. It fails to show how much Lou’s harridan mother (Elsa Janssen), a German immigrant cook at Columbia University, and his loyal wife Eleanor (Teresa Wright) detested each other, as there was even an ongoing court dispute on the estate hubby left–with his mom wanting a bigger share. The film has Lou’s parents at the wedding, but they never attended showing their disapproval for his bride-the daughter of a tycoon from Chicago. It also should be noted that Gehrig’s famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, saying “Some people say I’ve had a bad break, but I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” was gotten from Eleanor because the radio broadcast never kept the original speech and the speech came only three weeks after his diagnosis. It was a speech Gehrig gave from memory, with no notes, and the filmmaker had no choice but ask Eleanor for her version since the radio broadcast of the speech was not kept. The film traces Gehrig’s impoverished childhood and his mom wanting him to be an engineer, and his trouble paying tuition at Columbia University while playing baseball for the varsity. Things change when a sportswriter (Walter Brennan) recognizes his talent and the Yankees sign him. He takes the money to pay for mom’s hospital expenses. It then shows him in the majors, and when Wally Pipp takes a day off Lou replaces him and the rest is history. There are many cliches–in one scene Gehrig promises a hospitalized boy he’ll hit 2 home runs for him during theWorld Series and he delivers. It’s the kind of human interest story the people wanted to remember their fallen hero by. The popular film, starring a baseball hating Gary Cooper, in a corny “aw shucks” performance as the hero,who couldn’t even fake batting left-handed and only through trick reverse shots by Mate does he appear as a lefty, is perceived by many film-goers as the best baseball sports biopic ever. It might be right, but only by default.