It’s been a year since Through the Shattered Lens lost one of it’s own: Semtexskittle.
In honor of his passing I’d like to share one of the films he and I share a love for. I think he may have been one of the few who truly wanted this film to be nominated as one of the ten films picked for Best Picture for the year it came out. While the Academy voters were sorely shortsighted for not nominating the film, it still remains one thing Chris shared with everyone at the site. Whether it was his love of sports, anime, video games and everything in-between.
“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today … today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
— Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) at the end of The Pride of the Yankees (1943)
After airing Foreign Correspondent earlier tonight, TCM followed up by showing the 1943 best picture nominee, The Pride of the Yankees. Knowing that Pride of the Yankees was going to be a baseball film and that I know next to nothing about baseball, I recruited my sister, the Dazzling Erin, to watch the movie with me. Erin loves baseball and I knew that she would be able to explain anything that went over my head.
Well, I absolutely loved watching this movie with my sister but it turns out that The Pride of the Yankees isn’t really much of a baseball movie. True, it’s about a real life baseball player. Several actual players appeared as themselves. About 85% of the film’s dialogue deals with baseball and probably about 70% of the film features characters playing some form of the game. But the film never goes into any great detail about baseball or how it’s played. There’s no talk of strategy or rules or deeper meaning or anything else. Going into the film, I knew that baseball was a game that involved throwing, swinging bats, and running. And it turns out that was all that I needed to know.
The Pride of the Yankees is less about baseball and more about celebrity. It’s a biopic of Lou Gehrig, who today is best known for his battle with ALS, a disease that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 and The Pride of the Yankees was released just a year later. Watching the film, it’s obvious that Gehrig was a beloved figure, the type of celebrity who, if he were alive today, would probably be the center of stories like, “Lou Gehrig Did Something This Weekend And It Was Perfect.” Watching the film, it easy to imagine how traumatic it must have been for the nation when a beloved athlete like Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.
As a result, The Pride of the Yankees is less a biopic and more a case for canonization. From the minute that the film’s Lou Gehrig appears on-screen, he is presented as being the type of saintly athlete who, by promising to hit two home runs in one game, inspires a crippled child to walk. Lou is modest, kind, unpretentious, and never gets angry. Over the course of the film, he takes care of his mother, displays a worthy work ethic, and marries Eleanor. He and Eleanor have a perfect marriage without a single argument or a hint of trouble, except for the fact that Lou sometimes gets so busy playing baseball with the local children that he’s late coming home. There’s not a hint of sadness in their life, until Lou suddenly gets sick.
And really, it should not work. If ever there’s ever been a film that should be painfully out-of-place in our more cynical times, it would be The Pride of the Yankees. However, the film still works because Lou is played by Gary Cooper and Eleanor is played by Teresa Wright. These two excellent performers bring their considerable talents to making overly sentimental scenes feel credible. Gary Cooper was 40 years old when he made The Pride of the Yankees and there’s a few scenes — especially the ones where Lou is supposed to be a student at Columbia University — where Cooper is clearly too old for the role. But, for the most part, Gary Cooper did a great job as Lou Gehrig. Cooper is especially memorable when Lou first starts to show signs of being ill. Watching Lou struggle to swing a bat, I was reminded of a horse struggling to stand on an injured leg. It was almost painfully poignant.
The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture. However, it lost to another sentimental film that featured Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver.
Before watching a film like 1940’s Foreign Correspondent, it helps to know a little something about history.
Nowadays, when we think about World War II, there’s a tendency to assume that, from the minute that Hitler came to power in Germany and started to invade the rest of Europe, the entire world united against the Nazis. The truth is actually far more complex. The world was still recovering from World War I and throughout the 1930s, even as the Axis powers were growing more and more aggressive, respected intellectual leaders and politicians continued to argue that peace must be maintained at all costs. Pacifism was such a popular concept that otherwise intelligent people were perfectly willing to make excuses for Hitler and Mussolini. For five years, the UK followed a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany. Even after war broke out between Britain and Germany, the U.S. remained officially neutral. In the 1940 presidential election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt — running on a platform of neutrality — was overwhelmingly reelected over internationalist Wendell Willkie.
Foreign Correspondent, an American film made by a British director, opens before the start of World War II. An American newspaper editor, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport), is frustrated because none of his foreign correspondents seem to be able to understand the truth of the situation in Europe. They all claim that there is going to be no war in Europe but Mr. Powers feels differently. He also feels that the newspaper’s most celebrated and respected foreign correspondents are just a bunch of out-of-touch elitists. Instead of sending another upper class academic, Mr. Powers decides to send a hard-boiled crime reporter to cover the situation in Europe. Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) has never been to Europe and that’s exactly why Mr. Powers decides to send him. In one of the film’s more clever moments, he does, however, insist that Johnny write under the more distinguished sounding name of “Huntley Haverstock.”
(Foreign Correspondent‘s pointed criticism of out-of-touch elitists repeating the establishment line remains just as relevant today as it was in 1940.)
From the minute the brash and tough Johnny arrives in Europe, he finds himself caught up in a huge conspiracy. He’s been assigned to report on a group known as the Universal Peace Party and, since this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, we automatically know that any organization with the word “Peace” in its name has to be up to something shady. The Universal Peace Party has been founded by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who appears to sincere in his desire to avoid war. Johnny meets and falls in love with Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).
From the minute that Johnny witnesses the assassination of distinguished Dutch diplomat Von Meer (Albert Bassermann), he suspects that things are not how they seem. Working with Carol and a British journalist named Scott ffolliot* (delightfully played by the great George Sanders), Johnny discovers that Von Meer was not killed at all. Instead, a double was assassinated and Von Meer was kidnapped by a group of spies.
But who are the spies? After nearly getting killed by one of Fisher’s bodyguards, Johnny starts to suspect that Stephen Fisher might not be as into world peace as was originally assumed. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Johnny is now engaged to marry Carol…
Foreign Correspondent is a wonderfully witty thriller, one that has a very serious message. While the film is distinguished by Hitchcock’s typically droll sense of humor (eccentric characters abound and the scene where Edmund Gwenn keeps getting interrupted before he can attempt to push Joel McCrea off of a tower is both funny and suspenseful), the film’s message was that America could not afford to stay neutral as war broke out across Europe. As the all-American Johnny Jones says at the end of the film:
“All that noise you hear isn’t static – it’s death, coming to London. Yes, they’re coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out, hang on a while – this is a big story, and you’re part of it. It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!”
Foreign Correspondent was nominated for best picture of 1940 but it lost to another far different Hitchcock-directed film, Rebecca.
* Yes, that is how he spells his last name. As he explains, his family dropped the capital name in his surname after an ancestor was executed by Henry II. Since it was George Sanders doing the explaining, it somehow made perfect sense.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! is played strictly for laughs. It’s broad performances and slapstick situations won’t strain your brain, but will give you an hour and a half’s worth of escapist fun. Easy going James Garner has the lead, with solid comic support from Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, and Jack Elam. Director Burt Kennedy made quite a few of these, and this is probably the best of the bunch.
While burying an itinerant drifter, the townsfolk of Calendar, Colorado discover a mother lode of gold. The subsequent boom turns Calendar into a lawless, rowdy town that can’t keep a sheriff alive long enough to tame it. The town elders also can’t get their gold through without paying a 20% tribute to the mean Danby clan. Enter our hero Jason McCullough (Garner), who applies for the sheriff’s position “on a temporary basis…I’m on my way to Australia”. Jason is a crack shot and fast…