The Prizefighter and the Lady is such a melodramatic film title. The story is a bit melodramatic but not too badly. It actually has some surprises where you think clichéd things might happen which is odd for an early MGM melodrama.
Steve Morgan (Max Baer) works in a bar. He sees a guy starting a fight with another guy who has no idea what is going on. Steve knocks the guy who started the fight and his friend out and drags them out of the bar. Witness the whole incident is a man simply called The Professor (Walter Huston). The Professor gets on the phone and calls some fight promoters that he has a new guy he wants to try out in the ring. After he gets off the phone The Professor tells Steve that if he fights for three rounds and wins he will make fifty dollars. Steve agrees.
The next day while training out on a stretch of road they accidentally make a car go off the road. Steve pulls a woman named Belle Mercer (Myrna Loy) out of the car and takes her to a nearby farm house where they call for a doctor. Right away Steve is taken with Belle. He gives her a ringside ticket for his fight that night. Steve wins the fight without a problem. Belle comes to him after the fight to congratulate him. He tries his hardest to win her over by asking her out for dinner. When she leaves The Professor tells Steve that Belle is a gangster’s girl. This information does not bother Steve in the slightest.
Belle’s gangster boyfriend is Willie Ryan (Otto Kruger). He becomes a bit jealous when he hears that she went to see Steve fight. Almost as soon as they sit down in his club Steve walks in just wanting to have something to eat and drink. Willie invites him over to the table. As Belle sings Willie kicks Steve out of the club. Much later after being dropped off at her apartment, Belle sees Steve waiting for her. She wants him to go away she does not want to fall for him especially because she believes Willie will have him killed. All her pleas are in vain.
The following day Willie is frantic looking for Belle. Her maid tells him her club clothes were left on the floor and her traveling clothes were nowhere to be found. Belle walks into Willie’s office as if nothing is wrong. She tells Willie she and Steve were married that morning. Willie believes that something will go wrong and Belle will come back to him but for now no one is to touch Steve.
The Professor does not trust Belle. He thinks that Belle just married Steve for his muscle. Both have a good talk and she sets him straight that she really loves Steve more than anything. A boxing promoter who knows The Professor comes to the house. He tells The Professor he is setting up a fight that he wants Steve for. The fight will be held at Madison Square Garden and Steve can make a thousand dollars. Steve and The Professor agree to the fight. The Professor takes Steve to a resort so he can train without distractions. Unfortunately Steve is able to find a distraction in another woman.
Steve wins the fight. He goes from one fight to the next winning and becomes famous. The more famous Steve becomes the more he cannot keep his eyes off other women. The full drama of the film happens when Steve calls Belle to tell her he will not be home because The Professor has him training all night. Not more than two minutes after she gets off the phone with Steve The Professor walks in the door. Belle knows Steve is not being faithful to her. Steve begins to spiral out of control. Belle has enough and returns to Willie but Willie being a good gangster does not do anything to Steve because he can see Belle still love her husband.
And like any nice MGM melodrama the ending is all wrapped up nicely and happily.
Max Baer was not an actor and in some scenes it is obvious. Baer was outrageously charming with this huge presence that completely dominated everyone and everything else in his scenes. He and his character were very likeable which made the scenes where Steve cheats a real downer. Myrna Loy was one year away from getting her big break. W.S. Van Dyke saw so much potential in her that he apparently went yelling around the commissary at the studio that Loy was going to become a big star. And with his help Loy did become a big successful star. Loy’s scene with Walter Huston when they are talking about Belle loving Steve was cute. The Professor is talking and as he talks he walks and holds on to his coat. Belle walks with The Professor and imitates him. She put on the same cheeky smirk she would do as Nora Charles when tells Nick she will have a drink after she had originally said no. Otto Kruger I have only ever seen in Hitchcock’s Sabotage. This time he was not as oily and nasty. Kruger actually played a nice guy.
The film was written by Frances Marion. She was a very prolific writer from the teens into the late thirties writing several hit films for MGM Anna Christie, Their Own Desire, and Camille. All the mentioned films are melodramatic but the one melodramatic film I will always associate Marion with is the 1921 Mary Pickford film The Love Light which is melodramatic with a capital M. Marion was a very good story teller and all the films I have seen that she has written have been very good, even The Love Light.
The Prizefighter and the Lady has a terrible title but do not let that ruin the story even though it is a little cheesy. The performances and the direction make The Prizefighter and the Lady worth a viewing.