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Cinderella Man
The boxing film about Jim Braddock starring Russell Crowe

Article added on September 27, 2005
  
"In all the history of the boxing game, you'll find no human interest story to compare with the life narrative of James J. Braddock." Sportswriter Damon Runyon, who dubbed Braddock Cinderella Man, 1936.

He was a legend in the 1930s, Jim Braddock, the New Jersey boxer who made one of the greatest comeback's in sports history, went from rags-to-riches and became a legend by beating Max Baer.

The film's background is the crash of 1929 and the following depression. However, we miss the speak-easys of the prohibition period, the mob and all the illegal match-fixing which was commonplace in New York City boxing. Despite the hardship and pain suffered by Braddock and his family, Ron Howard's Cinderella Man is not a movie about American reality, but rather a Hollywood fairy-tale, hence the title Cinderella Man is well-deserved for more than one reason. Of course, a number of the film's incidents have been fictionalized, some characters composited or invented. However, the essence is based upon a true story.

Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) was a New Jersey-based amateur prizefighter known for his fierce right hand who turned pro in the 1920s. In his early years, he was dubbed "the Bulldog of Bergen". He seemed to be on the way to the top when he sustained irreparable damage to his badly broken right hand. He lost his winning punch and attacking power. His career began to slide downhill. In 1929, he suffered a crushing defeat opposite light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran in a heartrending 15-round decision from which he did not recovered. Braddock was never the same again. After a string of bad luck and ugly losses, the local boxing commission forced to him to retire by revoking his license. Boxing is a business and poor fights are bad publicity, driving spectators away.

The same year, Wall Street's stock market crashed. The ensuing Depression hit New York City and the entire country hard. By 1932, nearly one in four Americans was unemployed. Braddock was now an impoverished ex-prizefighter desperately and often unsuccessfully looking for work in NYC's docklands. When he became unable to pay the bills, milk, gas and electricity, he was forced to go on Public Relief.

"Hoovervilles", cardboard-shack shantytowns sprang up on the edges of most major cities, named after U.S. President Herbert Hoover who had been unable to put into place successful federal aid programs for struggling families. Hoover lost the 1932 election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, with the New Deal, gave new hope to Americans (although the success of the New Deal is controversial. Furthermore, FDR's New Deal was almost entirely an extension of programs initiated by Hoover, check the article America in Depression and War).

Driven by love and devotion to his family, honor, dignity and grit, he took the chance of a one-time fight in order to pay back his debts, get out of poverty and his three kids back; his wife had been forced to send their children (shivering in an unheated apartment) to other family members.

Suddenly, Cinderella Man became a symbol for the ordinary working man who couldn't get a job either. Carrying the hopes and dreams of the impoverished masses, Braddock became a hero fighting in the ring. He was not so much a great boxer rather than a great and decent man who became a legend boxing his way out of darkness.

As a result of the efforts of his indefatigable manager, Joe Gould (played by Paul Giamatti, who gave an excellent performance in Sideways; get the DVD from Amazon.com), Braddock was given the out-of-the-blue chance to fight John "Corn" Griffin (Art Binkowsky) in Madison Square Garden. Paul Giamatti became a legend himself during the 1930s. Several dime-store type biographies were even published about him.

Braddock was considered too old, too hungry and too injured to be a real contender. In direct opposition to his wife's fear (Renée Zellweger, less memorable than in Bridget Jones's Diary), Braddock steps back into the ring without any training, except the hard work on the docks. Stunning the crowd and the media, Cinderella Man managed to knock out his rising-star opponent. The comeback was partly made possible thanks to a newly strengthened left hand as a result of his stints working on the docks hauling sacks.

His career re-ignited, Braddock run from one victory to another. Shortly after the one against Griffin, he won a 10-round decision against Hall of Fame light heavyweight John Henry Lewis (Troy Amos-Ross). Then, Braddock dispatched Art Lasky (Mark Simmons) in a thrilling 15-rounder.

One of the first things Braddock did with his earnings was to pay back his Public Relief debt to the government. This selfless act of honor earned him even more respect from his growing fan base and a new nickname: "Gentleman Jim". He was known for his tricky feints and his killer left hook.

Braddock's once in a lifetime chance came next: the possibility to fight for the title of heavyweight champion of the world against the flamboyant Max Baer (Craig Bierko; excellent as a flamboyant star, less convincing as a boxer). They even tried to make a movie star out of Baer at the height of his career. Baer was a song and dance man as well, recalled actor Bierko in an interview. Baer was both, funny and light and a big personality.

By the way, in 1933, Baer fought one of the greatest boxing matches of all time, knocking out the German legend Max Schmeling in a ten-round fight. A year later, Baer defeated Primo Carnera (Matthew G. Taylor), knocking him down eleven times in eleven rounds. It was the same night that Jim Braddock successfully fought Corn Griffin.

Many warned Braddock to take on Baer since he was much smaller, less experienced and had to rely on his newfound left hook. Furthermore, Baer had been accused of manslaughter after one of his opponents was instantly killed by his knockout punch. Though he was later cleared of the charges, it was an open secret that he was one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport.

Despite his wife's concerns, after intensive training, Braddock challenged Baer in 1935 as the 10:1 underdog. It was a highly publicized, hyped event. Baer dominated the first rounds, but was unable to knock out Braddock. Whenever one fighter seemed to dominate a round and a premature end seemed near, the opponent rallied back. The fight lasted fifteen rounds. Braddock finally won in an unanimous decision.

Instantly, the fight was proclaimed the greatest upset in boxing history. Ordinary people celebrated Braddock's championship as if he were one of their own family. Braddock continued to fight, losing his title to another legend, Joe Louis, in 1937 in an eight-round knockout. By then, Braddock was already 32, whereas Louis was only 23. Braddock went on to beat the odds one last time, defeating the talented Tommy Farr in 1938, putting him once again in the position to fight for the title. But wisely, he retired, telling reporters that he was doing so not because he was done with fighting but out of fairness to his wife and family.

Jim Braddock served honorably in World War II and went on to own and operate heavy equipment on the same docks where he used to labor for a pittance during the Depression. In the 1950s, he helped build Brooklyn's Verrazano Bridge, at one time the world's largest suspension bridge. Jim Braddock died in 1974 at the age of 68.

A few more remarks about the film Cinderella Man:
The movie's only major fictional character is Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine), a former stockbroker who loses his job, works with Braddock on the docks, becomes a friend of the ex-boxer but also a victim of the Depression and the clashes between organized labor and police. He could not cope with his destiny. His story of personal downfall serves as a counterpoint to Braddock's ascent.

The two major reasons to watch Cinderella Man are the once again outstanding Russell Crowe as well as the breathtaking boxing scenes. Boxing choreographer Nick Powell and boxing/stunt coordinator Steve Lucescu, both under the guidance of the legendary boxing trainer/consultant Angelo Dundee (famous for his work with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, among others), did a marvelous job, orchestrating some of the greatest boxing sequences in film history.

Russell Crowe was devoted to authenticity and, therefore, used the same bare-bones training methods Jim Braddock would have used in the 1930s. At the time, boxers rarely trained with weights, giving them a less cut physique than current boxers. Instead, the emphasis was put on cardio and endless sparring, which transformed the actor form 228 pounds of Master and Commander's (German review) Captain Jack Aubrey to Braddock's fighting weight of 178.

Braddock's physique was considered by many too light and too battered to ever even hope for a regional win, let alone a heavyweight championship. To better capture the boxer's unique pugilistic style, Crowe worked on choreography with Angelo Dundee, who had witnessed Braddock fight in person on several occasions. The trainer taught Crowe how to use the left hook that Braddock had developed to overcome the weakness of his right hand.

According to Dundee, Russell Crowe managed to pick up Braddock's "mannerism, his smoothness, the legs, the way he slides, that slip, slide, block, jab - boom! .... He's got the speed, the rhythm, the determination and especially the will. Best of all, he learned to think like a fighter. One thing about Braddock is that he was a smart fighter, and Russell uses his noodle just like Braddock did. I do think if he wasn't an actor, Russell could have been a great fighter."

One week before shooting was to begin, Crowe dislocated his shoulder while sparring aggressively. The shoulder needed surgery and delayed the production for seven weeks. During this time, Crowe refined his footwork and ring craft. However, there was the danger that Crowe could easily re-injure his shoulder. "So we had to constantly find a balance between striving for the best possible take without increasing the chances that Russell coudl get heart", recalled director Ron Howard in an interview.

For the boxing scenes, the crew used an array of cameras and angels, in order to capture the intimate nature of the sport. This came at a price: to sell a no-holds-barred punch for multiple cameras, the actors had to get within a hair's breadth of the opponent. Sometimes actual contact was made, which increased the realism of the film. Crowe suffered repeated concussions and multiple cracked teeth in the process.

During the fight with Lasky (Mark Simmons), Crowe received such a powerful, direct hit that Paul Giamatti, in the role of Joe Gould, reacted with pure horror. The look was reality itself. But Crowe managed to continue the scene. Both of these shots are in the final cut of Cinderella Man.

Another factor adds to the realism of the boxing scenes: a group of professional fighters had been cast as Crowe's opponents, including Art Binkowski as Corn Griffin, Troy Ross as John Henry Lewis and Mark Simmons as Art Lasky. The exception is Craig Bierko as Max Baer. And it shows in some of the fighting scenes.

The real boxers had to learn to pull their punches. Full contact was forbidding during filming. Quite a challenge, since these real boxers were not used to throwing fake punches. They also worried that if they learned to hold back too well, they might never win a real fight again.

Cinderella Man is a true American fairy-tale with a Hollywood-ending. It highlights the country's strength, its optimism to be able to make it if only you believe in yourself and work hard. In short, it is another movie about the American Dream.
 
More articles on film in English and German.




Get Cinderella Man on DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Cede.ch, Amazon.de.

Cinderella Man is a film directed by Ron Howard.
Story written by Cliff Hollingsworth.
Screenplay by Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman.
Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Penny Marshall.

Cast of Cinderella Man

Jim Braddock..................................................................................Russell Crowe
Mae Braddock............................................................................Renée Zellweger
Joe Gould........................................................................................Paul Giamatti
Max Baer..............................................................................................Craig Bierko
Mike Wilson...............................................................................Paddy Considine
Jimmy Johnston..................................................................................Bruce McGill
Ford Bond.........................................................................................David Huband
Jay Braddock......................................................................................Connor Price
Rosemarie Braddock.........................................................................Ariel Waller
Howard Braddock.............................................................................Patrick Louis
Sara ..........................................................................................Rosemarie DeWitt
Lucille Gould...........................................................................................Linda Kash
Sporty Lewis.........................................................................Nicholas Campbell
Jake...............................................................................................................Gene Pyrz
Father Rorick................................................................................Chuck Shamata
Joe Jeanette ..........................................................................................Ron Canada
Alice
..............................................................................................Alicia Johnston
John Henry Lewis........................................................................Troy Amos-Ross
Art Lasky.........................................................................................Mark Simmons
Corn Griffin......................................................................................Art Binkowski
Abe Feldman..................................................................................David Litzinger
Primo Carnera........................................................................Matthew G. Taylor
Announcer Al Fazin.......................................................................Rance Howard







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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.