There may be people who love this weepiest of sports-legend biopics simply because they’re fans of Gary Cooper, or because they’re hardcore Yankee fans who’ll see any movie with the team’s name in the title, but let’s face it: most of us still get a lump in the throat at the sound of Lou Gehrig (or Cooper doing Gehrig), intoning into the ballpark’s vast echo, “Today-ay-ay, I consider myself-elf-elf the luckiest man-man-man on the face of the earth-earth-earth.” Most of us heard Cooper say it before we’d heard Gehrig (if we’ve heard Gehrig at all), and if the Iron Horse is still a universally beloved ballplayer, Pride of the Yankees has fostered that worship. Because it’s baseball, and it’s the movies, it’s not surprising that the legend supplants the original in the public consciousness. Cooper portrays Gehrig as a lovable, innocent bumbler: witness the earnest clumsiness as he wipes out on a pile of bats; the missed ball when wife-to-be Eleanor (the still underappreciated Teresa Wright) bestows a smile upon him; the aw-shucks waves to the roaring crowd. For millions of Americans, in the war years and after, this movie was a collective dream of baseball, in which a poor immigrant’s son can triumph and live a heroic life in the most democratic of sports. The movie leaves Gehrig at his final field appearance, sparing us the trial of his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Who’d argue that this isn’t as it should be? Does the film depict Gehrig as he really was? Of course not. Baseball fans love the game’s stories, names, stats, and legacies, and this is their Achilles tale, their Greek tragedy. Those same fans know, too, that this film offers opportunities to witness once-living legends Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, and announcer Bill Stern, playing themselves.
A legionnaire (Gary Cooper) dallies with a world-weary desert-oasis diva (Marlene Dietrich), who isn’t exactly as cynical and experience-toughened as she thought. The first, epochal American Marlene Dietrich–Josef von Sternberg film is the muggiest, woozy with hot, moonlit Saharan nighttime. Of course, it was all shot on the Paramount lot, with shadows. According to von Sternberg’s uproariously self-aggrandizing memoir, the Pasha of Marrakesh asked him, years later, why the filmmaker had not visited him when making the film in Morocco, which he’d recognized firsthand; Von Sternberg maintained he’d never been to the country, and Cooper, in his foreword to the book, expressed doubts that the windy director could’ve found the nation on a map.