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The Prizefighter and the Lady

The Prizefighter and the Lady(1933)


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teaser The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)

Myrna Loy stars as a nightclub queen who captures the heart of a boxer with a wandering eye in the romantic comedy The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933).Directed by W.S. 'Woody' Van Dyke, the film features exciting fight scenes and cameosby real-life boxing stars of the day such as Max Baer (the title pugilist), JessWillard, Jim Jeffries and Jack Dempsey.

Originally, screenwriter Frances Marion, who had just won an Oscar® foranother boxing themed movie The Champ (1931), was given the assignmentat MGM to write a new story for Myrna Loy and Clark Gable to fit the title TheSailor and the Lady. Howard Hawks was slated to direct and the story department was instructed to deliver a typical Gable scenario: gruff but lovablesailor falls for an upper class girl. Marion dismissed the story idea as warmed-overpudding, but was ordered to proceed by studio head Louis B. Mayer. After workingon the script for weeks, Marion turned it in only to find out that Clark Gable wasno longer available to do the film. Instead, the studio had signed the real-lifeboxer Max Baer to star, with the story's focus shifted to the world of the boxingring. Major re-writes were needed to accommodate this significant premise changein the newly re-titled The Prizefighter and the Lady, and Marionwanted 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 haveexploited their love affair," she pleaded with a studio supervisor as rememberedin her 1973 autobiography Off With Their Heads. "Just tear upthat manuscript and find another story - dozens of that genre have been published." The studio supervisor reminded her not-so-nicely that she was contractually obligatedto do as the studio said, so she re-wrote the script to accommodate the new boxingangle.

Since Gable was no longer available to star in The Prizefighter and theLady, director Howard Hawks begged off the project as well. Woody VanDyke, who was known for his speedy shooting style, was re-assigned to direct. MGMasked 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 winningdebut 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, proclaimingearly on that she was going to be a star. In her 1987 autobiography Beingand Becoming she remembers Van Dyke as the fastest director she had everworked with who "managed to give a personal stamp to everything he did." He wasalso full of practical jokes on the lively set of The Prizefighter and the Lady, including having chairs wired so that the actors got an awfuljolt when they sat down. Van Dyke directed Loy in a total of eight films, includingthe 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 andwide to watch the thrilling fight being filmed. Former Heavyweight champion JackDempsey was an added treat playing the referee. The following year, Max Baer didbeat Primo Carnera in the ring for real, and Baer became the new World HeavyweightChampion 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 TheBeverly 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

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