Thursday, October 13, 2016

OVP: The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)

Film: The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)
Stars: Myrna Loy, Max Baer, Walter Huston, Otto Kruger
Director: W.S. van Dyke
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Story)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Oscar has always loved a boxer.  Sports films at the Oscars come and go-really, considering how much athletics is perched into our national psyche, it's kind of staggering that Oscar doesn't focus more on the field, but boxing has always been the exception to that rule.  I could name you ten boxing films that have been nominated for Oscars before I could name you five in all the rest of the Olympic fields.  So it was of no surprise to me when I discovered that this love has extended almost since the beginning of the Oscars.  This past week I caught The Prizefighter and the Lady, languidly perched in my DVR, which featured several real-life boxers at the time alongside MGM leading lady Myrna Loy.

(Spoilers Ahead) Prizefighter is the story of Steve (Baer), a barroom bouncer who is discovered by the Professor (Huston, because of course Walter Huston plays a character named the Professor), a retired boxing manager who sees Steve's potential.  Soon Steve is working his way up the rings of the boxing world, as well as romantically as he falls for the girlfriend of a mobster, Belle (Loy).  However, Steve has a wandering eye, and that gets him into trouble as the film progresses, as he regularly cheats on Belle even as he's on the top of the world in boxing, getting a chance at the belt and starting to become a vaudeville headliner in the process.  The film, like most of this ilk, ends with a gigantic fight, though weirdly here we get a tie rather than the expected knockout for Steve, and with him realizing that Belle was the girl for him all-along, we also get the cliched MGM happy ending.

It's always weird to judge the screenplays of early cinema, because at this point it was still a relatively recent phenomenon to have sound in the pictures, and you can tell that here.  The film's dialogue is kind of clunky, except perhaps that delivered by Loy, though with her glittering laugh and delivery she can make bon mots out of anything.  As a result, I'm surprised it was sighted for screenplay, though really there weren't a lot of options at the time (that being said, this came out the same year as King Kong, so there were certainly better options).  The film feels relatively basic, and even if it was inventing a story that everyone from Rocky to Million Dollar Baby would fall into the shadow of, it's not that interesting of a story to begin with.

However, the point of boxing films isn't necessarily the writing, but instead what happens in the ring, and here we've got a slight improvement.  Seeing Baer fight against Carnera is fascinating, particularly considering this bout would be a precursor to when Baer would defeat Carnera the following year in real-life and actually take the title (rumor has it he used what he picked up about their fight in Prizefighter to defeat Carnera in real-life).  Additionally, you have Jack Dempsey, another champion, in the same ring as the referee.  If for no other reason that the sheer curiosity factor of seeing actual, real-life boxers act and play a part in a movie, this is probably worth seeing even if the story surrounding it isn't very good.  Additionally, Myrna Loy, one of my favorites (it's still smarting that I couldn't include her in this rundown) is wonderful and the best part about the actual cinematic aspects of the film, even if this isn't one of her "great" roles like Nora Charles.

There you have it-it's 2/5 because I can't properly recommend the film as it's pretty bland, but there are enough curiosities of history and for Loy fans to make it worthwhile to a point.  Don't seek it out, but if it's on TCM you don't need to change the channel.  At least those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Share what you think of boxing movies, Myrna Loy, and Oscar's weird fascination with one (but unfortunately not the other) in the comments.

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