Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rawhide (1938) Review

Rawhide (1938)
Dir. Ray Taylor
Starring Lou Gehrig, Smith Ballew, Evalyn Knapp

Baseball star Lou Gehrig (playing himself) quits the game to live a quiet life working on his sister’s (Knapp) ranch in a town called Rawhide. Once there he discovers a protection racket preying on the local population, and he teams with a lawyer (Ballew) to take them down.

This is an interesting movie. Lou Gehrig plays himself in a fictional story of him going out to the west and having an adventure. This is his first and only time acting in a film, and it was made shortly before he was forced to retire from baseball due to ALS. The most fascinating thing about this film is that in recent years researchers presented a paper to the American Academy of Neurology where they studied pictures and film of Gehrig from 1937 to 1939. They looked over the material looking for symptoms of ALS, but while they could see some signs in pictures from 1939, they could not find any abnormalities in the footage from this film, and stated "Examination of Rawhide showed that Gehrig functioned normally in January 1938". It’s pretty neat that a movie that was just kind of pumped out pretty quick to capitalize on his baseball fame eventually got used as a case study in a medical report.

Overall it isn’t a bad little movie. It kind of feels like they took a typical singing cowboy western and just kind of shoe horned some baseball stuff in it to accommodate Gehrig, including a bar fight where he stands at the back and throws baseballs at the brawlers and a scene where he coincidentally finds some kids playing baseball, then uses their ball to disrupt the bad guy by batting the ball through his window. As it is Gehrig isn’t bad in the movie, he’s not going to amaze anyone with his acting but he does a pretty good job. But Smith Ballew is the real star of the picture. I could see a shorter movie without Gehrig and focusing on Smith Ballew’s Larry, the lawyer in the town that seems more like the typical western hero of the era. He is introduced sing a song called “When a Cowboy Comes to Town”, in a bizarre scene that involves him getting ready for his day, loading his gun and doing some target practice inside his home. He does get a scene where he kind of flirts with Evalyn Knapp’s Peggy Gehrig, but she gets kind of sidelined for most of the film, and in a movie without Gehrig she probably would have had more to do that make eyes with Larry and then want to give up and sign with the bad guys.

The movie does move along at a pretty quick pace, and it doesn’t feel too long or too short during its 58 minute runtime. Other than the presence of Gehrig there isn’t anything that makes it stand out as being that different from most of the other singing cowboy b-westerns from the era, and it probably be another forgotten B-Western if had not starred Lou Gehrig. As it is it isn’t a bad little movie, but it’s mainly worth checking out for the oddity of seeing Gehrig act in a western.

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