Richie Cunningham Loses It
If there was ever an actor who epitomised good American apple pie values, it was Ron Howard. No kid served as a better role model than Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. No one, not even Mrs. C, could take the credit for transforming The Fonz from thug to good citizen other than Richie Cunningham.
Opie Goes to School
It then came as utter disillusionment to find out that Ron Howard in real life couldn't hold a candle to those goodie two-shoes he portrayed on television. In order to sell Cinderella Man as an epic portrayal of James Braddock's unlikely rise to winning the heavyweight belt, the producers figured there needed to be a villian. That person became Max Baer.
The problem is Cinderella Man was based on a true story. There's no place for poetic license in such a situation. It was morally wrong to rewrite that history. It's unfortunate this happened, because it was unnecessary. One can appreciate Braddock without being fed lies about Max Baer. The bottom line is actually that Braddock was a mere footnote compared to the impact Max Baer had. Baer should have been featured and not the other way around. By twisting and lying about Baer's past, Howard basically became a sellout hack.
I'm shocked that no Hollywood movie has ever been done on Max Baer. Maybe I missed it, but I don't see that there has been even one attempt.
Cinderella Man spinned Max as being proud of murdering a man in the ring. It is fair to argue that the 1930 death of Frankie Campbell was the reason Max Baer never became one of the all time greats of the sweet science. That event devastated him. He humbly offered his goodwill to the Campbell family and helped put Frankie's kids through college. Campbell's tragic death was the equivalent of Samson getting his hair cut off by Delilah, or Popeye having his spinach taken away. From then on, Max Baer needed all sorts of psychological motivation to perform well in the ring.
He got some of that mojo back when he fought Max Schmeling of Germany. Baer had Jewish blood. Although he wasn't a practising Jew, for that fight and from then on he wore boxing shorts with a large Jewish Star embroidered on it. That was downplayed by Cinderella Man. It was decided that Braddock versus Baer as good versus evil schtick wouldn't work so well, if folks knew Baer had been a thorn in Nazi Germany's Aryan supremacy schlock. We know of Joe Louis smacking down Hitler's favourite boxer. We know Jesse Owens did a good thing smacking down Nazi morale with his efforts in the 1936 Olympics. Max Baer deserves to be in that grouping. Unfortunately because of Ron Howard's mythology, he isn't.
James J Braddock Max Baer 1
I watched a chunk of the Braddock-Baer fight. It was a snooze fest except for Baer's entertaining nature. Braddock won by decision. He didn't exactly beat on Max. As reported in a 1935 Time Magazine article, "Over Braddock [Max Baer] had the advantages of weight (18 lb.), reach (3 in.) and a fabulous right-hand punch which had once killed a man. In all earnestness he had told reporters:
I'm scared stiff I'll kill Braddock. I dreamed last night I hurt the boy. I woke up in a cold sweat.The real irony is that it's not an outrageous opinion to think Max Baer was a better actor than Ron Howard. He was in a number of quality flicks. Ron Howard never was.
Max Baer made his acting debut in 1933 in The Prizefighter and the Lady. It is fair to say he stole the movie from two of the greatest actors of all time, Myrna Loy and Walter Huston.
The "Thin Man" witty lines
WALTER HUSTON TRIBUTE
There is a very interesting side tangent that emerged from this movie. Mussolini's boxer Primo Carnera played himself under the condition that he wouldn't lose to Baer's character. That guy was huge, but he had a soft chin and word was most of his wins had been rigged. Max crushed Carnera the next year to win the heavyweight belt, after having knocked him down eleven times.
Max Baer would later co-star with Humphrey Bogart in the 1956 film The Harder They Fall. It was Bogart's last movie. The script was a fictionalised version based on the Primo Carnera story. Baer played a character somewhat based on himself, but in which he was portrayed just like Cinderella Man did, as a monster proud of his ability to kill people in the ring. Maybe Baer wouldn't have played the part, if he knew decades later he would be unethically pinned as being so in real life. But that takes us into a Twilight Zone styled time travel schlick-schlock.
Max Baer had major skills beyond fisticuffs. He was perhaps the original Muhammad Ali or perhaps that honour goes to Gentleman Jim Corbett. Baer was a natural born entertainer who just so happened to also be adept at applying fists to faces. He was the real life version of Golden Boy by Clifford Odets. That play first hit Broadway in 1937. Perhaps Odets had been influenced by Baer's story? A similar death in the ring occurs. A similar anguish is felt by the character Joe Bonaparte that Max Baer experienced. This was a theme, one of regret of one's hands leading to another's death, that Ron Howard and the makers of Cinderella Man didn't bother including in their movie. To make matters worse, Cinderella Man falsified such truth.
The Prizefighter and the Lady wasn't a musical, but about halfway through it, Max Baer showed up in a Broadway-like schtick. Since Cinderella Man decided to fictionalise real history, I am going to go out on a limb and argue that Rocky was the much better picture, precisely because it never made itself to be anything than it really was. Richie Cunningham messed up bad. He should apologise and atone for distorting history into fiction without a disclaimer.
Max Baer in "Prizefighter and the Lady"
How Cinderella Man sucker punches the Jewish boxer Max Baer.
The Real Max Baer Is Missing From 'Cinderella Man'
Ron Howard's latest movie proves that Hollywood still has a real problem portraying American Jews as anything but stereotypes.