The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Many great actors have “become” the characters they portray. Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln. However, those of us who have seen Sam Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees would argue that Gary Cooper doesn’t become Lou Gehrig; he is Lou Gehrig. His “luckiest man” speech in the film is as popular as Gehrig’s actual speech at Yankee Stadium back in 1939. It’s nigh impossible to imagine anyone else ever playing the role, and just saying that out loud makes me fear that Hollywood may attempt to do so. Let me move on before they catch wind.
The movie follows Gehrig’s life as a college student, his consecutive-games-played streak, falling in love, and ultimately the disease that would one day bear his name and took him too soon. It features a subtle performance from Cooper, with an ending that stops where most tragic dramas wouldn’t (well before the funeral), and also capped off a run of three consecutive Oscar nominations for Teresa Wright, who played the role of Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor. Though she wouldn’t be nominated again for the rest of her life, it isn’t as though her career tanked. Wright would go on to star in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, as well as one of the greatest post-war films of all time in The Best Years of Our Lives. And those three nominations were for her first three films. Take that, J-Law! –Justin Gerber