Saturday, March 15, 2014

Stubs - Winner Take All (1932)

Winner Take All (1932) Starring James Cagney, Marian Nixon, Guy Kibbee, Dickie Moore Directed by Roy Del Ruth. Produced by Roy Del Ruth (uncredited). Screenplay by Robert Lord and Wilson Mizner (adaptation) Based on the short story “133 at 3” by Gerald Beaumont published in Redbook, March 1921. Run Time: 66 minutes. U.S.  Black and White.  Drama, Romance, Boxing.

It seems that every major star at Warner Brothers was in the B-Picture Unit at one time or another. Studios owned the theaters and they wanted to keep the product fresh and to keep their emerging stars in front of the audience as much as possible. James Cagney, who had only the year before he had his breakout film, The Public Enemy, would be in three films in 1932: Winner Take All, The Crowd Roars and Taxi. You had to give the people what they wanted and, apparently, they wanted Cagney.

While convalescing at a hospital in New Mexico, New York boxer Jimmy Kane (James Cagney) meets and falls in love with Peggy Hamon (Marian Nixon). They realize that they had met once before in New York when she worked in the nightclubs. Peggy is in New Mexico for her son Dickie’s (Dickie Moore) health. The boy’s health issues are never really spelled out, but doctors told Peggy six months in New Mexico would do wonders for him.

Dickie Hamon  (Dickie Moore) and his mother Peggy (Marian Nixon)
sandwich Jimmy Kane (James Cagney) is a scene from Winner Take All.

But Peggy has money problems. Money she had counted on from her husband’s life insurance won’t be coming, since the policy had elapsed. Jimmy, who isn’t supposed to fight, decides to get back into the ring, travelling down to Tijuana to raise the $600 she needs to stay at the hospital. Jimmy gets convinced to get into a winner take all pot of $2000. And that is his motivation to knock out the other fighter.

Jimmy pays for Peggy to stay and the couple seems happy together. But word gets out about Jimmy’s Mexican fight. At first his manager, Pop Slavin (Guy Kibbee) is mad at Jimmy, but soon he sees the opportunity. We watch this transition through a series of telegrams from Pop, which eventually tell Jimmy to come to Chicago to arrange some fights. At the train station, Jimmy promises Peggy that he’ll send for her and Dickie as soon as he can.

But things turn out differently. Jimmy’s re-emergence on the fight scene goes very well. He wins fight after fight, which draws the attention of blonde society girl Joan Gibson (Virginia Bruce). She seems to be fascinated by Jimmy the way Jane Goodall is fascinated by chimps. She likes to bring him to society affairs because he doesn’t really fit in and she’s attracted to his putty nose and cauliflower ear. Joan leads Jimmy on, but that seems to drive him wild. He thinks she’s in love with him.

Jimmy rests between rounds while manager Pop Slavin (Guy Kibbee), upper right,
watches and trainer Rosebud (Clarence Muse), lower right, attends to him.
When Pop arranges for Jimmy to fight the lightweight champ, Jimmy turns it down. Instead, he goes to have plastic surgery and gets a nose and ear job. He also takes elocution and etiquette lessons, all trying to impress Joan. But when she seems him, she’s not happy. She confides to a friend that now he looks ordinary.

Jimmy has surgery to be more appealing to Joan (Virginia Bruce), but she is not impressed.
Jimmy has Pop arrange for some easy fights. He changes his style, becomes less combative and gets known for bicycling around the ring. He goes from fan favorite to being booed for his style. He even loses a fight by getting out boxed. And when the fans boo, Joan leaves the arena.

Meanwhile, Pop has sent for Peggy. But Jimmy is only thinking about Joan and puts off their reunion until the next day. Jimmy goes to Joan’s apartment and is told by the butler that she’s not there, even though she’s having a party. Jimmy is outraged at Joan and confronts her about her behavior telling her that, not only will she be ring side at his championship fight, but she’s going to marry him.

The next morning, Jimmy tells Peggy that he’s met someone else and breaks her heart.

Jimmy moves forward with his plans to marry Joan, having a tux made and buying a diamond ring. But when he fights the champ, he notices that the four seats he reserved for Joan are empty. He has his trainer, Rosebud (Clarence Muse), call to find out where she is. He returns during the fight to tell Jimmy that Joan is on her way to a ship that is leaving within the hour.

Jimmy takes care of the champ, but flees the ring and jumps into a cab, still wearing his boxing shorts and gloves. He manages to get on the liner and finds Joan’s cabin. She tells him that word had reached her that her sister is sick in Havana. Jimmy’s not sure he believes her, but the truth comes out when Roger Elliott (John Roche) comes into the cabin. Even Jimmy can figure out that Joan is running away with Roger. He punches Roger and gives Joan  a well-deserved kick in her keester when she bends over Roger's unconscious bpdy, before fleeing the ship. 

Next, Jimmy is proposing to Peggy, telling her that it’s always been her and he gives her the diamond ring he’d bought for Joan. Peggy accepts.

This is supposed to pass for a happy ending, but clearly Peggy is a second choice and Jimmy is lying to her about his feelings. But we’ll forgive the film for this sloppy ending.

While James Cagney would become a great movie actor, he lets his kinetic energy and mush-minded boxer persona carry the day in this film. But really this is far from a stellar acting job from anyone involved. But if you’re a fan of Cagney’s you’ll want to watch it at least once.

The sequences may be sped up, but Cagney still looks tough in boxing trunks.
Winner Take All is one of those films that looks like it was made in the same amount of time as it runs on the screen. Pacing is everything, the faster the better. The boxing sequences are even sped up to just this side of looking comical. Character development and motivations are thrown out the window in the film’s never-ceasing rush to get to the final credits.

Winner Take All (1932) is available at the Warner Archive Collection:

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