Women Weaken Legs!
I’ve seen many a boxing film and despite having no real interest in the sport I find they often make for great stories – I consider The Prizefighter and the Lady (written by the great Francis Marion) as one of the great unsung boxing films with its less than conventional and exceedingly well acted and conveyed love triangle. What’s particularly striking about this romance is how intriguingly pathetic in a way it is. Belle (Myrna Loy) falls in love with a dunce of a jock named Steven (played by real-life boxer Max Baer) – “A big kid” as Belle calls him. Steven is a man who doesn’t seem to know any better and Belle is fully aware of this but can’t help that she has fallen for him; you really can feel the raw sexual attraction between these two, especially in their introductory scene in which Loy has nothing but a blanket draped over her.
The third end of the triangle of this not so swooning love story is Willie Ryan (Otto Kruger) as Belle’s original lover. Willie is a crime boss but is not presented as your typical hardnosed gangster (nor is it clear what the extent of his criminal activities are). Willie cares deeply for Belle and the two even talk openly about Belle’s newly found feelings for Steven. However, Belle eventually informs Willie she has got married to Steven and leaves him and her life as a socialite for more mundane and dowdy existence, leaving Willie with one heartbroken face with two tears coming off his face. – The Prizefighter and the Lady is full of little, subtle acting moments like this you wouldn’t notice on first viewing.
Perhaps that would be enough drama but no, Steven, the ladies man who is all muscles and no brain is cheating on Belle with multiple women. It does raise the question of what sane man would play adultery when you’re married to Myrna Loy?! The female lead of Prizefighter and the Lady would be a unique part for any major Hollywood actress. MGM was known for their glamorous stars yet here is Myrna Loy appearing dowdy and I suspect at times not be wearing any makeup – we are even introduced to her being lifted out of a car wreck and covered in dirt. While I’m not a fashion connoisseur every once in a while I will see a film from the 1930s and fawn over the outfits. Every outfit worn by Loy in The Prizefighter and the Lady is to die for. Likewise, her singing of the song Downstream River in the nightclub is enchanting, even if it’s obviously not her voice doing the singing. – She is a quintessential symbol of urbanity.
Oh yeah, and there is boxing in this film too, right? Older films generally aren’t known for their stellar boxing scenes. The film’s combination of slowed down footage and frequent cuts doesn’t look fantastic but it’s not totally immersion breaking. Likewise, I just wish the film could have done without the rather cheap, 7-minute long musical number entitled “Lucky Fella, Lucky Guy”. What more than compensates is the gorgeous high contrast cinematography in the boxing arenas; you can feel the grit and grime of the sweaty, smoke-filled atmosphere in another example of the type of neo-realism the pre-code era had to offer.