Upcoming Historical Films
Crowe's boxing lessons
Braddock, the actual Cinderella Man
All the King's Men
The Great Raid
Kingdom of Heaven
Master and Commander
Memoirs of a Geisha
Passion of the Christ
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pride and Prejudice
Walk the Line
CINDERELLA MAN ( June 3, 2005)
"A Real Cinderella
By Cathy Schultz
Boxing has long held a fascination for filmmakers. Consider Raging
Bull, The Champ, Million Dollar Baby, Rocky
(though maybe let's not think of its sequels.) There's something
of poetry in the pummeling and pain of boxing.
Or so I'm told. To be honest, I'm not a fan, either of the sport
or of most boxing films. As a moviegoer, I need the human story
behind the pugilism. Why does this person fight, I want to
know. And why should I care?
Cinderella Man, the new film about the actual 1930s boxer
Jim Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) answers that. Braddock's
not fighting for respect, or sparring any inner demons. Quite simply,
he's fighting for milk for his kids. And like so many others, he's
battling poverty, despair, and shame--the shadowy foes of the Depression
threatening to swallow his family. "Let me take my punches
in the ring," the film's Braddock tells his worried wife, Mae.
"At least I know who's hitting me."
Washed up, in debt, and struggling to find work, Braddock's too-good-to-be-true
comeback story is more amazing because it is true, and Ron
Howard's excellent film hews largely to real life, fictionalizing
only minor details. Here's something on the life and times of the
real Jim Braddock.
Q. How popular was boxing during the 1930s?
A. It was huge--as popular as baseball, and maybe more so. Heavyweight
champions were superstars, with a Michael Jordan-like fame. Fans
by the tens of thousands thronged to see the big matches, with millions
more avidly following via radio and the colorful stories of newspaper
Q. How accurately is the Depression era shown?
A. Watching a recreation of painful historical episodes isn't always
fun. After all, the Depression was so depressing. But at
the same time, historical films provide a time-capsule thrill of
watching a long-past era spring to life. In brown and sepia tones,
Cinderella Man perfectly captures the bleakness and the despair
of the Depression--the squalor, the Hooverville shacks, the hollow
eyes and grim faces. It's the next best thing to being there. On
second thought, it's better.
Q. Did Braddock actually fight with a broken hand?
A. He did. More than once in fact, and it was the constant hand
injuries that ended his career for the first time. Braddock's most
celebrated qualities as a boxer were his tenacity, and his ability
to fight through intense pain. He took pride in being knocked out
only once in his long career, by Joe Louis, two years after the
Q. Did the Braddock kids really get sent away?
A. Yes, and for a longer time than shown in the film. His inability
to pay the bills and keep the family together during the bitter
winter of 1934 was the final straw that sent Jim to the relief agency,
and in the film's most poignant moment, literally begging for help.
Q. Did Jim only have two days' notice of his first comeback
fight against Corn Griffin? And did he go into it without having
eaten all day?
A. The two days' notice is accurate. Braddock later said he would
have fought on two hours' notice, so badly did he need the money.
As for the growling stomach--it's a great moment in the film, but
whether or not Jim actually tried to gulp down hash that his manager
Joe Gould brought him minutes before the fight is unknown. But after
the fight, he did say, "I did this on hash, Joe. Imagine what
I could do on steak."
Q. Did Braddock give back the money he had gotten while on relief?
Isn't that a little too good to be true?
A. It is, but happened nonetheless. Like many people, Braddock was
intensely ashamed about the relief money he had received. With his
fight earnings growing in 1935, Braddock was eager to pay it back.
Sportswriters discovered the story just weeks before his fight against
heavy weight champion Max Baer, and to Braddock's embarrassment,
splashed the story everywhere. Yet it was this action, as well as
Braddock's improbable soupline-to-heavyweight-contender story, which
endeared him to millions. By the time of the fight, seemingly the
entire country stood firmly in Braddock's corner, while betting--assuming
they had money--on Baer.
Q. Did Max Baer really act so badly towards Braddock before
A. Poor Max Baer comes out here much worse than he really was. Every
film needs a juicy villain, and fact-based films usually exaggerate
the villainy of the token bad guy. Although Baer publicly disparaged
Braddock as an unworthy opponent, he never taunted Braddock about
killing men in the ring. In fact, the death of his opponent Frankie
Campbell (in the newsreel clip shown in the film) haunted Baer throughout
Q. Did Mae beg her husband not to fight Baer?
A. No. In reality, Mae shared Jim's thrill at his opportunity to
fight for the heavyweight title, and of course, his delight in the
substantial purse money he'd receive, win or lose.
Yet Mae did worry constantly about potential injuries, and refused
to watch Jim's matches in person. As a viewer, I can certainly relate.
It was tough to watch Russell Crowe's mug getting so mauled. Boxing
can be a sadistic sport, and the film doesn't flinch from that
But despite that, this movie got to me. I cried. I cheered. Cinderella
Man made me a fan. If not of boxing, then certainly of this
Q. Where can I get more info on the real James Braddock?
A. See sportswriter Jeremy Schaap's excellent book, Cinderella
Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University
of St. Francis in Illinois.
This column appeared in newspapers the weekend of June 3-5. See
Russell Crowe, looking
for someone to punch....
(whoops, wrong movie)
The real James Braddock