A few nights ago I decided to go to the movies. This is a rare event, since I usually find nothing worth my time and effort. In the last several years I have been to the movie house to see: My Big Fat Greek Wedding; The Passion of the Christ; and now, Cinderella Man.
I’ve been in Yuma, Arizona for the past week with one week to go, thus satisfying my military requirements for this year. Since my evenings are usually free while away from home, RP2 Kevin Rodgers and I decided to catch a show. He is a Star Wars junkie, and I had not seen the latest (and final?) episode of this saga, so after dinner at Chili’s we headed for the movie house. This is one of those multi-plex theaters so commonly found in large malls today.
Standing in line to buy tickets I noticed that Cinderella Man was also showing. So I suggested we see that instead, especially since Kevin had already seen the Star Wars flick. I had read a review of Cinderella Man recently, which stars Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. The reviewer said this was the “must see” movie of the year. Well, I’ve heard that before. But what got my interest was 1) Ron Howard is the director, 2) Russell Crowe is a terrific actor, his off screen behavior not withstanding, 3) it is a true-life story, and 4) it’s about boxing. I love boxing! I boxed a little myself many years ago. In fact, I had a promising career. I had only one problem: I discovered I had an inate ability to block any punch with my face!
So anyway, we watched the movie and I must say, Kevin and I agreed it was outstanding. The reason it was outstanding is because of the values that are so clearly taught. This is the story of a light-heavyweight boxer in the late 1920s by the name of James J. Braddock (played by Crowe). His rise to the top of the boxing world was curtailed by a persisten broken right hand. The Great Depression reduced him to working the docks of New York City for day wages, if work was even available. He, his wife and three kids lived in the squalor of tenement houses. Unable to pay the electric bill, with little money for food, the family struggled. His wife, Mae (wonderfully played by Renee Zellweger), took in ironing.
What stands out in this movie are: strong family ties; a solid work ethic; and the determination never to quit, whether in the boxing ring or in life.
The relationship between Braddock and his wife is warm and genuine. They are committed to each other and their family, though not without struggles, and enduring the poverty that was visited upon them through no fault of their own. They conduct themselves with honor and dignity. Mae always supports him in his boxing career even though she doesn’t like the sport.
One scene was poignant in its portrayal of the eldest son (about ten years old), who had stolen a bologna sausage from the local deli. The mother had the boy wait until the father came home. Braddock took his son back to the deli to return the sausage. As they left the deli, the father explains to the son that no matter how bad things may get in life, you never do the wrong thing. Then he asked his son to promise never to steal again. The son promised, but through his tears expressed his fear that if the family didn’t get enough food to eat, the kids would be farmed out to relatives like some of his friends had experienced. Braddock realized his son’s fear and assured him that he would never break up the family regardless of how desperate things might get. You’ll need a tissue for this scene!
Also, Braddock demonstrated enormous character throughout. At one point he had to seek financial assistance from a government agency in order to feed his family. After he had his opportunity to fight again in 1934, from the fight purse he earned from the win, he returned the money he’d previously received from the government agency! When asked why he’d done this, he explained that he didn’t need the money any longer, and figured someone else probably did. When’s the last time you saw this characteristic portrayed in a Hollywood film?
James J. Braddock got his “cinderella” chance to fight the then heavyweight champion of the world, Max Baer. The odds were clearly against Braddock surviving the first round, let alone going the distance with Baer. But to win the fight on top of that? Impossible! Yet, that’s what happened in June 1935. Braddock held the title for two years before losing it to an up-and-comer by the name of Joe Louis, known to fight fans as “The Brown Bomber.”
With the money he earned from his win over Baer, Braddock bought a home for his family in North Bergen, New Jersey. He retired from boxing in 1938. When the United States entered WWII, he joined the Army. He was then thirty-seven years old. He and his wife, Mae, lived in their modest North Bergen home the rest of their lives.
This is a “must see” movie. There is some use of foul language, but only what you would expect from those involved in so violent a sport as boxing. And the fights are raw, bloody events. It all fits together and is well worth your time. You’ll come away feeling good about life again.
And wouldn’t that be nice for a change?