Cast & Crew
Horse breeder Jim Rellence is proud of his horses and takes pleasure in extolling their virtues to prospective buyers. One day, during a rainstorm, Jim's favorite mare, Southern Queen, slips on a muddy trail and is injured beyond hope of recovery. Uncle Ben, a ranch hand on Jim's ranch, shoots the ailing horse and agrees to adopt the mare's orphaned foal, Tommy Boy. Years later, Tommy Boy is ridden for the first time by Uncle Ben's son Sam, but the boy falls off. Jim raises horses to sell them, but finds that he is unable to put Tommy Boy up for sale because he has become sentimentally attached to the horse. Although Uncle Ben warns Jim no good will come out of his hesitance to sell the horse, Jim hides Tommy Boy when B. H. Hartwick, a buyer, asks to see the colt. When Hartwick finally manages to get a look at the horse, he is so impressed that he offers Jim $6,000 for him. Jim is hesitant to sell, but eventually takes Hartwick's offer and sadly parts with the colt. Later, at the Latonia racetrack, Tommy Boy wins an easy victory for Hartwick. Hartwick is soon offered money for the horse by the wealthy Mr. Ludeking, whose impulsive wife Angela has decided that she must buy Tommy Boy because she likes his colors. Tommy Boy is sold for $40,000, but Angela becomes hysterical when the horse loses its next race. Later, when Ludeking, a gambler, fails to win back his losses at the card table, he is forced to sell the horse to Tip Scanlon, the unscrupulous owner of the gambling house. Casino card dealer Rid Riddell is in love with Ruby, who is also employed by Scanlon in his casino, but their romance is forbidden by their boss. When Tommy Boy loses an important moneymaking race, it is discovered that Scanlon has been abusing and drugging Tommy Boy to improve his performance. Fearing retribution from mobsters who were counting on Tommy Boy's big win, Scanlon gives the horse to Ruby as he attempts to flee to Philadelphia, but he is murdered before he can escape. Ruby turns down Rid's offer to help Tommy Boy get back in top form and race him honestly, she decides to give herself, as well as the horse, a much needed country vacation. Ruby tells Rid that there are too many "maybes and probablies" about him, and that she will not allow him to accompany her on the trip. She then finds the horse's original owner and takes him to Jim in the hope that he can rehabilitate Tommy Boy. Not only does Jim welcome the horse back, but he offers Ruby a room in his large house, which she gladly accepts. Sometime later, Rid visits Ruby and remarks on how well both she and Tommy Boy have been restored to their old selves. Ruby, however, is disappointed that Rid has not changed since Scanlon's death. When Ruby enters Tommy Boy in the Kentucky Derby, the horse is instantly favored to win. As soon as Rid learns that Jim has bet on his horse, he tells Scanlons's thugs about it, which results in a plan to sabotage Tommy Boy's run. Prior to the race, Uncle Ben is tipped off to the scheme and manages, in the last minute, to insure the horse's unfettered run. After Tommy Boy wins the race, Ruby blames Rid for the sabotage attempt, but forgives him when she discovers that Rid was the one who tipped off Uncle Ben about the attempt to fix the race. With her faith in his integrity restored, Ruby kisses Rid.
J. Farrell Mcdonald
Tommy Boy [a Horse]
Not yet wearing his trademark mustache, Gable plays another gangster in Sporting Blood (1931), who wins a racehorse on a bet and soon misuses the champion animal for illegal purposes. When Gable plots to drug his horse to deliberately lose a race, his romantic interest, Madge Evans, schemes to return the horse to its original loving owner. The latter restores the racer to top condition for the climactic Churchill Downs contest.
Although Gable's first starring role, Sporting Blood was overshadowed by his work just before and just after it. Viewing the rushes of the Shearer potboiler A Free Soul, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg thought supporting player Gable (again as a gangster) was stealing the show from its stars, so he insisted on inserting a scene that would keep the audience from sympathizing with the character. But when Gable slapped the rather proper Shearer in the new scene, audiences loved it and began writing the studio demanding more of the rugged newcomer. (Gable's rough treatment of Stanwyck in Night Nurse, released the same day as Sporting Blood, also earned him similar adulation.) He was quickly paired with Crawford again, in Possessed (1931), and with Garbo in Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (1931) and rounded out the year with another top solo-starrer, the action-packed Hell Divers.
Sporting Blood did little for the career of writer-director Charles Brabin. A veteran of 20 years in the business, he made only a handful of films through 1934 before retiring to live out the next 20 or so years of his life with his wife, former silent screen vamp Theda Bara. The man behind the lens, however, had a highly successful career as one of the studio's master technicians. Harold Rosson (married for a short time in the early 1930s to Jean Harlow) was the cinematographer on many of MGM's top productions over the next 20-plus years, earning Academy Award® nominations for his work on The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and three other pictures, including Gable's Boom Town (1940).
The movie had one other big name attached to it: Vice President of the United States Charles Curtis, who appears in the Churchill Downs crowd.
Two other pictures bore this same title, one released in 1916 by Fox and another by MGM in 1940. Although they, too, centered on horse racing, none of the plots had any direct connection with the others.
Director: Charles Brabin
Screenplay: Charles Brabin, Willard Mack, Wanda Tuchock, based on the story "Horseflesh" by Frederick Hazlitt Brennan
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editing: William S. Gray (uncredited)
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Cast: Clark Gable (Warren "Rid" Riddell), Ernest Torrence (Jim Rellence), Madge Evans (Missy Ruby), Lew Cody (Tip Scanlon), Marie Prevost (Angela Ludeking).
by Rob Nixon
A working title for this film was Horseflesh. The New York Times review notes that Vice-President Charles Curtis appeared in the background in a racing scene. Modern sources credit William Gray as the film editor. According to an onscreen acknowledgment, the farm scenes were filmed "on location in the blue grass [country] of Lexington and Hopkinsville, Kentucky." Recognition is also given to the Elmendorf, Greentree, Dixiana and Elmsdale Stock Farms for their cooperation. The Variety review of the film notes that scenes of the races at Latonia and Churchill Downs were taken from newsreel footage. A modern source incorrectly claims that M-G-M's 1940 film Sporting Blood (see below) was based on the same source.