“The Pride of the Yankees” is a biopic and a baseball movie. I appreciate it most as a love story. I’ve admired Gary Cooper in many films. This is the first in which his performance had a strong emotional effect on me. Teresa Wright’s performance as his wife was equally potent. The love between their characters is summed up in a song that foreshadows what it will be, right at the moment when it’s about to blossom. Like “How Long Will It Last?” in “Possessed”, Irving Berlin’s “Always” resonates with me because it has a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics that remind me of my own feelings while expressing something meaningful about certain people and their story. When Gehrig dances for the first time with the girl he will marry, they hear a woman singing lyrics that are the most perfect description of an ideal spouse I’ve ever heard:
“When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand
Days may not be fair
That’s when I’ll be there
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
“The Pride of the Yankees” really got to me, even when it went for emotion in obvious, predictable, and familiar ways. For example, a scene in which Gehrig visits the hospital and makes this deal with a bedridden sports fan: I’ll hit two home runs for you if you promise to fight for your recovery. Years later, the recovered boy approaches and thanks Gehrig. I couldn’t help but shed tears, despite knowing that the boy’s situation and character arc were pure melodrama cliché. I remember seeing it parodied on “The Simpsons”, when Mr. Burns announced the following to a football team:
Men, there’s a little crippled boy sitting in a hospital who wants you to win this game.
I know because…
I crippled him myself to inspire you.
My most copious tears flowed in sync with those of Gehrig’s wife when she wept right before and during Gehrig’s historic speech that concludes the movie. My reactions to the crippled boy and speech (also parodied memorably on “The Simpsons”, complete with the echoes that famously punctuated it) made me realize something. If a sincere emotional moment is done well, its power over me can’t be diminished by a good parody. “The Pride of the Yankees” has now surpassed “Camille”, “Stella Dallas”, and “Imitation of Life” (1959) as the movie that made me cry harder than any other. I blubbered so embarrassingly that I’m glad no one else was in the room with me. I sounded like a whimpering puppy. Today, I consider myself the weepiest man on the face of the earth.