Grade: C-Pride of St. Louis (1952)

Director: Harmon Jones

Stars: Dan Dailey, Joanne Dru, Richard Crenna, Chet Huntley

Release Company: 20th Century Fox

MPAA Rating: NR

Baseball Movies

Jones: Pride of St. Louis


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"Anybody who's ever had the privilege of seein' me play ball knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world. And them that ain't been fortunate enough to have a gander at Ol' Diz in action can look at the records." -- Dizzy Dean

For years the national media, including the movies, has proclaimed the greatness of the Yankees—their history of 26 World Championships cannot be denied, nor can we dispute the greatness of superstars like Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, and Mantle. However, quality baseball teams have existed outside the Bronx, and to a former Midwestern who grew up with the St. Louis Cardinals it was a great relief to discover that Pride of St. Louis is still preserved on video.

The legendary Gas House Gang of the early 1930's was before my time, but their stories had often been passed down through the Redbird grapevine, most notably by the great Jerome Herman "Dizzy" Dean, the colorful and witty subject matter of Harmon Jones' film. Dan Daily mimics ol' Diz's down-home wackiness extremely well and enhances the legendary pitcher with the necessary charisma, but the bio-pic takes no chances and constructs a near carbon copy of the better known 1942 Pride of the Yankees (even retaining half of the title), forever relegating the film to the forgotten bin. Once again the St. Louis Cardinals suffer a strategic blow to the Yankees (though as a former Cardinal fan I must point out that the Redbirds hold a 3-2 advantage in head to head World Series match-ups).

Most have seen Lou Gehrig's story through Gary Cooper's memorable performance, so you'll recognize the story structure of Pride of St. Louis readily:

  1. The scout spots the prospect

  2. Early days in the big leagues—a breakthrough success

  3. Get a girl and marry her

  4. Baseball successes, told through stock footage and newspaper headlines

  5. Career ending disaster strikes

  6. Poignant speech required for ending

At 93-minutes the film doesn't run the risk of boring the audience with unnecessary details, but Dizzy could use some more colorful scenes. Director Harmon Jones selects very little actual baseball action, and most of that looks more like stock footage with Dean on the mound with the same camera angle in every game (baseball fans will appreciate glimpses of Sportsman's Park and Wrigley Field).

The film hints at the closeness of Dizzy and his younger brother, Paul “Daffy” Dean (Richard Crenna), but doesn't go for many details other than what you can read about in career highlights articles—how Diz campaigned for the Cards to sign his brother, how they more than fulfilled Diz's boast that they'd win 45 games in 1934, how the brothers served as occasional ticket-takers, concessionaires, or played in the team band between starts. Surprisingly, the film boots an opportunity to include one of Diz's most famous quotes by leaving out Paul's no hitter performance in the second game of a double header after Dizzy had pitched a shut-out in the opener: "Effen you'd only a-told me you wuz gonna pitch a no-hitter, I'da pitched me one, too."

Credit Daily for spinning Dizzy's uneducated Arkansas verbal style and cadence as well as humanly possible. At the time the film was made, Dizzy was one of the most popular baseball broadcasters in the business, spinning baseball yarns mostly about his playing days, so obviously Daily did his homework to capture his non-stop charming bravado to highlight the film.

(Funny how Dizzy could get by exclaiming how he was baseball's greatest pitcher and say things like, "I ain't pitchin' no curves today, fellers. Nuthin' but fast balls." And people just laughed—partly because in his prime Diz could back up his boasts, and partly because he spoke in such a homespun and good-natured manner. Muhammad Ali was received quite differently some thirty years later.)

Working in Dean's trademark grammatically incorrect “slud into third” feels awkward and unnatural the way it's performed, unlike the way Diz used to exclaim. At least Daily doesn't attempt singing “The Walbash Cannonball,” but it would take a really good singer to perform this as badly as Dizzy used to do over the airwaves.

Hardly a thorough biography, Pride of St. Louis leaves much of the more interesting details about Dizzy's baseball career out of the mix in favor of having Daily entertain with verbiage—my guess is to save production costs. The Gashouse Gang was notorious for pulling stunts, clowning around, and playing some really hard-nosed baseball, yet the only item preserved is one small scene in the bottom of the ninth in the 11-0 blow-out of the Tigers is a humorous conference on the mound with Dizzy talking to his catcher about fishing. Dizzy's famous quote about the Tigers appearing more like "kittens" is relegated to a small newspaper headline--where is Dizzy's daring base running play where he gets conked in the head to break up a double play, and where is the Detroit fan riot scene where they pelt the Cardinals left fielder with bottles?

Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz has the basic outline for a decent baseball biography, and it's little wonder that it follows the same formula as Pride of the Yankees since he wrote that screenplay as well. It just didn't need to pattern itself so closely to his earlier work--a broken toe and subsequent dead arm don't make Dizzy's story as poignant as Gehrig's fatal affliction. The attempt to make Diz's case for literacy and education is noble enough, but the screenplay doesn't fill in with enough details to take it beyond banality. And that's a durn shame. A potentially good film is trimmed down to a tolerable mediocre one, and Diz and the Cardinals deserve better.

You can look it up, but I strongly suspect the only reason that Dizzy ever got this 1952 film made about him is due to his brief stint in 1950-1 announcing for the Yankees, where he gained notoriety with the east coast media--later to be turned into a national Game of the Week television audience. Somehow those damn Yankees are almost always behind these baseball movies!

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