Cast & Crew
W. S. Van Dyke
After hard-drinking Edwin J. Bennett, a washed-up boxing manager who calls himself "Professer," sees Steve Morgan, a strapping sailor, knock out a drunk in a bar, he arranges for him to fight in a bout with a one-hundred dollar purse. To the Professor's surprise, Steve defeats his more experienced opponent in the match's first round. Sure that the egotistical Steve is the stuff of champions, the Professor stops his own drinking and orders the sailor to begin a rigorous training program in the country. While running with the Professor, Steve witnesses an automobile accident and rescues beautiful Belle Mercer from an overturned car. Steve takes the unconscious Belle to a nearby farmhouse and nurses her until she is steady enough to leave. Grateful for Steve's help, Belle accepts his invitation to his next boxing match but, after the bout, declines to see him again. From the Professor, who warns him against romantic distractions of any sort, Steve learns that Belle is the longtime girl friend of notorious gambler Willie Ryan. Steve follows Belle to Ryan's nightclub, where Belle is a singer, and boldly presents himself as a romantic rival. Although Belle assures Ryan that she is not seriously interested in Steve, she is unable to turn him away when he follows her to her apartment and professes his love. A few days later, Belle announces to Ryan that she and Steve have married. Heartbroken and stunned, Ryan blesses the marriage but tells his trigger-happy bodyguard, Adopted Son, that if Steve ever were to make Belle unhappy, he would kill him. Belle then convinces the suspicious Professor of her sincere love for Steve and agrees to postpone their honeymoon until his training is complete. While Steve wins a series of boxing matches, the box office success of which is fuelled in part by Belle's notoriety, he also wins the attention of many admiring women. Although Ryan warns her about Steve's philandering, Belle insists that his flirtations are harmless and dedicates herself to becoming a more loving wife. However, when Belle catches Steve in an obvious lie, she confronts him with his infidelity and threatens to divorce him if he strays again. Steve vows to remain faithful, but just before he is to box in the heavyweight championship bout, he finds himself performing in a vaudeville revue with a row of pretty chorus girls. When Belle finds one of the chorus girls in Steve's dressing room, she denounces him and returns to Ryan and his nightclub. Determined to put Steve out of Belle's life, Ryan invests $25,000 in the championship bout and, to over-inflate Steve's already enormous ego, bets heavily in his favor. In spite of the match's frantic publicity, Steve sinks into a depression and, in a drunken rage, fires the Professor. Without Belle and the Professor's support, Steve falters through the first rounds of the Madison Square bout with heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. When, however, both the Professor and Belle pledge their support from the stands, Steve regains his drive and battles Carnera to a draw. Seeing that Belle still loves Steve, Ryan finally releases her to him and gives his unconditional blessing to their rejunevated union.
W. S. Van Dyke
James J. Jeffries
Harry C. Bradley
Robert J. Kern
John Lee Mahin
W. S. Van Dyke
Edwin B. Willis
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Prizefighter and the Lady
Originally, screenwriter Frances Marion, who had just won an Oscar® for another boxing themed movie The Champ (1931), was given the assignment at MGM to write a new story for Myrna Loy and Clark Gable to fit the title The Sailor and the Lady. Howard Hawks was slated to direct and the story department was instructed to deliver a typical Gable scenario: gruff but lovable sailor falls for an upper class girl. Marion dismissed the story idea as warmed-over pudding, but was ordered to proceed by studio head Louis B. Mayer. After working on the script for weeks, Marion turned it in only to find out that Clark Gable was no longer available to do the film. Instead, the studio had signed the real-life boxer Max Baer to star, with the story's focus shifted to the world of the boxing ring. Major re-writes were needed to accommodate this significant premise change in the newly re-titled The Prizefighter and the Lady, and Marion wanted nothing to do with it. "Gene Tunney (Heavyweight Boxing Champion 1926-28) is my friend. He married a beautiful society girl - and they might think that I have exploited their love affair," she pleaded with a studio supervisor as remembered in her 1973 autobiography Off With Their Heads. "Just tear up that manuscript and find another story - dozens of that genre have been published." The studio supervisor reminded her not-so-nicely that she was contractually obligated to do as the studio said, so she re-wrote the script to accommodate the new boxing angle.
Since Gable was no longer available to star in The Prizefighter and the Lady, director Howard Hawks begged off the project as well. Woody Van Dyke, who was known for his speedy shooting style, was re-assigned to direct. MGM asked Hawks to stay on board for a few weeks, however, in order to help Max Baer, who had never been in a film before, with his acting. The results were excellent, as Baer proved to be a natural in front of the camera. He shines in his winning debut performance, and holds his own next to seasoned performers like Myrna Loy and Walter Huston, who plays Baer's manager in the film.
Myrna Loy loved working with Woody Van Dyke. He had directed her once before in Penthouse (1933) and was one of her biggest supporters, proclaiming early on that she was going to be a star. In her 1987 autobiography Being and Becoming she remembers Van Dyke as the fastest director she had ever worked with who "managed to give a personal stamp to everything he did." He was also full of practical jokes on the lively set of The Prizefighter and the Lady, including having chairs wired so that the actors got an awful jolt when they sat down. Van Dyke directed Loy in a total of eight films, including the one that made her a star: The Thin Man in 1934.
The Prizefighter and the Lady climaxes with a heavily hyped fight scene between Baer's character and reigning real-life World Heavyweight Champion Primo Carnera. The shooting of this scene was an event on the set since Baer was a real-life contender for Carnera's Heavyweight title. People came from far and wide to watch the thrilling fight being filmed. Former Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was an added treat playing the referee. The following year, Max Baer did beat Primo Carnera in the ring for real, and Baer became the new World Heavyweight Champion of 1934.
The film was a hit, with Frances Marion's screenplay winning an Academy Award nomination. The critics praised Max Baer's winning personality and natural screen presence; in fact, many people felt that he walked away with the movie. Following his boxing career, Baer managed to make a living as an actor, appearing in several feature films throughout the 1940s and 50s, including The Harder They Fall (1956). His son Max Baer, Jr. went on to television fame playing Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg, W.S. Van Dyke II
Director: W.S. Van Dyke II
Screenplay: Frances Marion (story), John Lee Mahin, John Meehan
Cinematography: Lester White
Film Editing: Robert Kern
Art Direction: Fredric Hope, David Townsend
Music: Ray Egan
Cast: Myrna Loy (Belle Mercer Morgan), Max Baer (Steve Morgan), Primo Carnera (Himself), Jack Dempsey (Himself), Walter Huston (Edwin J. Bennett), Otto Kruger (Willie Ryan).
BW-102m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume
The Prizefighter and the Lady
Primo Carnera was the world's heavyweight boxing champion when this film was made and released. He refused to make the movie using the first script, which had him knocked out in the end, but agreed to a revised script with an additional $10,000 salary.
Max Baer was the leading heavyweight contender for the title. Both he and Carnera made their motion picture debuts in this film.
In an interview, Myrna Loy stated that Max Baer carefully watched Primo Carnera's boxing style during the filming and used this information to beat Carnera in their real-life match for the title in March, 1934.
A working title of this film was The Broadway Racket. According to a modern interview with Myrna Loy, another working title was The Sailor and the Lady. For Canadian distribution, the film's title was changed to The Conquering Sex. According to a January 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item, the title was changed because M-G-M was concerned that the original title might frighten away women viewers. Professional heavyweight boxer Max Baer made his screen debut in the film. At the time of the film's production, Primo Carnera, who also made his screen debut in the picture, was the world's heavyweight boxing champion. Baer was considered the main contender for Carnera's crown, and in 1934, he defeated Carnera for the title. Variety notes that Carnera refused to be knocked out at the end of the film and agreed to the draw decision in the script only after the studio added an extra $10,000 to his $35,000 salary. Hollywood Reporter notes that Baer was "mutilated" for the first time in his two-year boxing career when he had two teeth knocked out during a staged fight. According to the modern interview with Myrna Loy, Baer studied Carnera's boxing techniques during the filming and later used this "scouting" information to beat Carnera. In March 1934, Daily Variety announced that the picture had been banned in Germany because Baer was Jewish.
An August 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed were writing songs for the picture, but the film's only song is credited to David L. Snell. A May 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Josef von Sternberg was first slated to direct the picture, with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone as the stars. By June 1, 1933, production was halted so that Crawford could start work on M-G-M's The Dancing Lady. On June 5, 1933, von Sternberg, who was in disagreement with writer Carey Wilson, who reportedly was working on a screen treatment, asked to be released from the project. According to an August 1933 Film Daily news item, W. S. Van Dyke became the director after the exit of Howard Hawks, who initially was assigned to the film after von Sternberg. While Hawks was assigned to the film, Elissa Landi was under consideration for the film's "other female lead," and Mae Clarke was suggested as a possible leading lady, according to August 1933 Hollywood Reporter news items. Although Motion Picture Herald's "In the Cutting Room" states that M-G-M stars Lionel Barrymore, Jean Hersholt, Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller were to appear as extras in the final boxing sequence, they were not spotted in the viewed print. Motion Picture Herald gives the running time as 68 minutes, but this time is most likely an error.
According to a modern interview with director Howard Hawks, the original story, on which Hawks claims he worked, was written with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in mind. Gable was supposed to play a mature, stable character, while Harlow was to be a sexy dimwit. When Baer and Loy were cast, Hawks wanted out of the project but was persuaded to start the production for Van Dyke and help Baer with his acting. Writer John Lee Mahin apparently disputes Hawks's claims, saying in the same modern source that Hawks was fired after two days of shooting because he was working too slowly. For his work on the film, Frances Marion received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Original Story) category.