January 18, 2015

Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees

as LOU GEHRIG
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In 1942, Gary Cooper solidified his place as the poster child for Americana by following up his Oscar-winning performance in the awfully corny, trite, Pro-Murica biopic of a lovable WWI war hero with an even cornier, triter, Pro-Murica biopic of a lovable baseball icon. As much as I inherently dislike Cooper's pandering to American heartstrings, in a manner so blatant that it's practically insulting (what could possibly be more American than the one-two punch of guns, God, and Baseball?), I surprisingly didn't hate him in this film as much as I hate the actual film as a whole. This is my second time watching The Pride of the Yankees, which is two times too many, and if I'm lucky I'll never have to watch it ever again. But at least this time around Cooper is able to demonstrate some acting chops that weren't really required in Sergeant York.

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 photo ScreenShot2015-01-18at11330AM.jpgBy now, Cooper has perfected the art of portraying the fetching, soft-spoken lad whom everyone can't help but be fond of. As with other major Hollywood stars of the time (I'm looking at you, Bette Davis) what was once kind of interesting in his first Oscar-nominated turn has now become exhausted as he's done essentially the same thing across multiple nominations. Take his Longfellow Deeds, Alvin York, and Lou Gehrig, mash them together, and they're pretty much the same person with the same exact reactions, manners, and behavior. So I'll spare you the bitching on how pedestrian I thought most of his performance was. Because it is pedestrian, hardly worthy of any attention whatsoever if it weren't for the abrupt ALS diagnosis in the last 20 minutes or so. The disease is handled in such an arbitrary manner (they don't even mention the name...we're basically told he's got something seriously wrong with him and that's that) it feels as though the makers of the film included it not out of necessity to tell Gehrig's story but for a last-ditch effort to ensure the stupidest, cheesiest, tear-jerking-est film of the year. But for the most part, Cooper is surprisingly effective in the scenes where he starts to realize something is wrong with him. In fact, he handles the whole last act with a rather touching sense of self, probably because for the first time (so far that I've seen), his nice-guy schtick doesn't ensure him a happy ending. It's all alright, but what little he does to impress is far from enough to salvage the dull, by-the-books fluff that makes up two-thirds of his total performance. In the opening credits of the film Gehrig is overdramatically (as per usual with all these damn films) described as "a lesson in simplicity and modesty to the youth of America...He left behind him a memory of courage and devotion that will ever be an inspiration to all men." Cooper for sure does not personify that entire phrase with this performance, most especially the bit where he's allegedly an inspiration to all men (myself included)...but simple? Sure!

7 comments:

  1. I think Cooper was really very wooden very often but I really liked him in this one. :) I look forward to your thoughts on Teresa who is very difficult to judge for me.

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    1. Well, I liked him more here than in Sergeant York, so I guess that counts for something! As for Wright...quite an easy one to judge in my opinion :)

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  2. Don't really feel the desire to watch him here or in any of his films, honestly. He was okay in For Whom The Bells Toll, but nothing amazing. Very good in High Noon, but it has been a long while since I saw that.

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    1. Yeah, Cooper's not really the kind of actor that prompts me to watch more of him...he's just so boring!

      Goes without saying, but I'm not looking forward to seeing him in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

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  3. The more shellacked-on patriotism and nobility to a film, the less the chance people return to it again and again for any repeated entertainment value. What was true of Pride of The Yankees or The Best Years of Our Lives in the 1940s, could be said as well about films like Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia, and Schindler's List. You make sure to see them out of some sense of civic duty, and being able to discuss them with others, like wearing an "I voted" tag. But repeated viewings become an endurance test, no matter how much effort, blood, sweat and tears went into the making of them, no matter how much money went into them, no matter how much was earned back.

    But if what I need from a film is to snap me out of a worried reality for a while, send me back again and again to Auntie Mame, Airplane, Tootsie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or A Fish Called Wanda. As for Cooper, a fine actor of course, but give me him as the endearing befuddled professor against a sexy and snazzy Stanwyck, rather than a monument staring down adversity.

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    1. you formulated my feelings better than I could! This one was a task to watch for sure, I had already seen it years ago but had blissfully forgotten just how much I hated it. Just when I thought nothing could top How Green Was My Valley...

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