Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Athletes in Film blogathon: Lou Gehrig in Rawhide (1938)


Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Rich of Wide Screen World are hosting the Athletes in Film blogathon running June 4th and 5th.  DAY 1.  DAY 2.

Lou Gehrig's life was relatively short, being stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 36 in 1939.  The degenerative muscle disease which has commonly become known as Lou Gehrig's disease took the athlete's life in 1941.  Lou's baseball career was one of great accomplishments.  Even non-baseball fans are aware of his automatic entry into the Hall of Fame, his world series play and the New York Yankees' legendary status as the "Iron Horse" with the long-held record of 2,130 consecutive games.  




Relatively fewer fans know of Lou's connection to the movies beyond the 1942 biography Pride of the Yankees and Gary Cooper's Oscar-nominated performance as Gehrig.  Cooper paints a disarmingly diffident portrait of the baseball star.  In 1938s Rawhide, a B western release from producer Sol Lesser, audiences get to see Lou Gehrig as an actor.  Well, maybe not so much an actor, but a lovable character called Lou Gehrig.



Popular jazz singer and one of the earliest of the movies' singing cowboys Smith Ballew is top-billed as Larry Kimball.  Give a listen to Ballew's version of Dream a Little Dream of Me.  In our movie Smith plays a lawyer trying to assist ranchers fighting a protection scheme in a place called Rawhide, Montana.  The trouble is that the ranchers have been intimidated into backing away from a fight.  Enter a renowned first baseman.  



Evelyn Knapp as Lou's sister Peggy

The New York press kids Lou along as he departs the Big Apple for the quiet life on a western ranch he has bought with his sister played by Evelyn Knapp (The Perils of Pauline, The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance).  The reporters are sure Lou will change his tune when the Yanks concede to his contract negotiations.  However, the big lug insists he is serious about a life on the range far away from the crowds and noise of the major leagues.    

Growing up watching old B westerns on TV gave me an appreciation for western songs and singers, well choreographed barroom brawls, and rackets.  Seems to me in these flicks there is always some mook in a suit finagling his way around the legal system to do somebody or other out of their ranch.  In this case the mook is a guy named Saunders played by Arthur Loft.  He has wrested control of the Rancher's Protection Association away from a nice old guy named MacDonald played by Lafe McKee, who specialized in playing nice old guys in B westerns.  A disgraced doctor is slowly poisoning the old guy while Saunders takes over the business.  Saunders' henchmen, led by B western baddie Dick Curtis, beat up ranchers, burn wagons of supplies, and do so with impunity.  Cy Kendall is the sheriff who turns a blind eye for a fee.  It's a pretty tidy set-up for Saunders until Lou Gehrig shows up. 



Lou Gehrig, Smith Ballew
After the Brawl is Over

Lou and his sister have no intention of falling for Saunders' guff and when their hired hand played by Si Jenks gets plugged (Don't worry, kids, he'll be fine.) Lou is only too happy to help lawyer Kimball take down the villains.  Peggy is only too happy to help out the handsome lawyer as well.  Peggy and Kimball will make eyes at each other in the romantic subplot of the flick.

The taking down of the baddies is managed in under an hour and is accompanied by four songs, a couple of brawls, and plenty of riding and shooting.  It is fun to watch Lou clean out a mess of hombres by chucking billiard balls at them.  He's got a good arm and a good eye.



Lou Gehrig

Lou is also a real good sport about learning to ride a horse and dress like a "real" cowboy.  He has the amateur habit of shouting his lines, but overall the Lou Gehrig we meet in Rawhide comes across the screen as a genuinely nice and friendly guy, who is having a lot of fun playing cowboy.  If time had been on his side, it would have been pleasant to see Lou attempt another film.






19 comments:

  1. Oh man. I want to meet this Lou Gehrig.As a Yankees fan, which I know you are as well, he makes me all misty automatically. I love the idea of his giving a try to being a Western star. This is a fantastic choice for Athletes in Film and as usual, Paddy, it's a pleasure to read. Thanks so much for joining us.

    Aurora

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    1. It was my pleasure to write about Lou. I've really been enjoying the contributions to the blogathon today. Such a varied lot of movies is inspiring.

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  3. What an interesting post! I just added Rawhide to my list of films to watch. Thanks for your kind comments about my Brian's Song post. :)

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    1. Thank you so much. Your article on "Brian's Song" is very moving.

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  4. Lou Gehrig in a barroom brawl! That's awesome. Excellent choice. I can't imagine many people even know about this movie.

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    1. I found this movie on a western movie compilation VHS set at a garage sale years ago. You never know where you will find stuff.

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  5. I love your choice. Leave it to you to come up with a good one. I've only seen clips of this movie in the past, never the whole thing, but it's fun.

    An astute observation: " Seems to me in these flicks there is always some mook in a suit finagling his way around the legal system to do somebody or other out of their ranch."

    This is why I don't own a ranch. I just know some mook in a suit would show up and try to do me out of the deed.

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    1. I knew you had to have a good reason for foregoing your natural inclination for ranching.

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  6. Great choice for a post CaftanWoman. I grew up watching these movies on TV also, and probably saw this without realizing it was Lou Gehrig. The recording of Smith Ballew singing Dream a Little Dream of Me was pretty good. Fun.

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    1. I think Smith Ballew's movie career should have taken him into more sophisticated territory, but cowboys were popular at the time.

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  7. I had no idea this film existed. Great pick!

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    1. It is always fun to come across something "new", or at least unexpected.

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  8. First, I had NO IDEA Lou Gehrig was in a film, and it sounds like an entertaining one, too. (Love how you said there's always some "mook in a suit" looking to swindle some rancher. How true!)

    Secondly, I can't imagine playing 2,130 consecutive baseball games. That is impressive!

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    1. I imagine Hollywood was a walk in the park for a guy like Lou Gehrig. Ballplayers certainly weren't coddled. Life can be so unfair.

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  9. Good find. I too, had no idea Lou Gehrig made movies. Interesting times back then...

    Also want to say I enjoy your site. Keep up the good work! Coming from someone who neglected his college job as a projectionist of, mostly, Janus' "Oedipus Rex" to watch the college's collection of of one reelers from the turn of the 20th century, I enjoy reading the love you have for cinema.

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    1. Jon, thank you so very much. Your compliment really made my day. I find it most gratifying sharing this love of cinema so many of us share.

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  10. In The Pride of the Yankees, Lou is shown as a very nice guy. I only found out he was in a movie when I was reading about his life. Rawhide sounds like a fun western to see on a lazy afternoon, with lots of popcorn.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I do believe the purpose of this fun movie is to sell more popcorn! The more I learn about Lou, the more I wish he had had more time with us.

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