Occasionally I’ve commented on baseball’s relationship with Hollywood. This time I want to do my Roger Ebert impression and actually review a movie. It’s called Rawhide (not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood TV series of the 1960s) and it stars Lou Gehrig. Yep (and I do mean “yep”, Pardner) that Lou Gehrig.
In 1938 Gehrig made a movie. It’s a western released in April by Principal Productions. It runs 58 minutes and is a standard drug store cowboy/singing cowboy flick with Gehrig thrown in as the token ballplayer. The film is touted for having Gehrig in it, but he has the second role behind Smith Bellew. Bellew was a singing cowboy of the 1930s and 1940s who had a short career that never got above the drug store cowboy stage.
Gehrig has decided to retire from baseball, so the plot informs us (not knowing that was to be tragically true the following year) and goes to live on a ranch in Montana with his sister, played by Evalyn Knapp (She was a blonde who appeared in a number of these kinds of movies in the 1930s and 1940. If you’re a student of them, she’ll look familiar.). There they find the local Ranchers Protective Association is run by a corrupt bunch of thugs led by Arthur Loft with Dick Curtis as his number one hinchman. Curtis in particular will be recognizable as the villain in a number of period westerns as well as the fall guy (literally) in a host of Three Stooges shorts. Si Jenks, a long time comic sidekick, plays the comedic relief role. Bellew is the local honest lawyer (yes, there are some) who falls for Gehrig’s sister. Between the singing, the horses, and the gun play, there’s a plot there somewhere. It’s pretty thin, but also fairly standard for a singing cowboy B movie.
It’s got a lot of holes. For instance Gehrig is seen in New York retiring at the end of the season (October), then the movie ends with a mention of impending spring training (March). So the flick takes place in the winter in Montana. There’s not a lick of snow and the trees are all leafed out. Also the movie shows Gehrig’s sister picking him up in town in a nice car, but then they proceed to ride horses into town from then on. So is this the 1930s or the 1880s? The movie is never sure, sort of like not being sure what time of year is involved.
As an actor Gehrig isn’t too bad. John Wayne in The Searchers and Gary Cooper in High Noon he isn’t, but Gehrig is at least not laughable and actually does a couple of comic scenes pretty well. If he could’ve sung, he could’ve been Gene Autry.
Frankly if I was 10, I’d love this flick. It’s one of those standard short movies that used to show up at Saturday matinees along with a serial, a couple of cartoons, and a dozen ads touting local businesses. If you like this kind of thing, then have at it. And don’t worry, Gehrig gets to swing a bat and toss a ball, well at least a handful of billiard balls in a classic barroom brawl scene.
It’s available from Netflix if you’re a member. Enjoy.