The Prizefighter and The Lady (1933) Movie Trailer
The Prizefighter and The Lady - 1933 (Original Poster)
Released: November 10, 1933 Running time 102 minutes
Director: W. S. Van Dyke and Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Producers: W. S. Van Dyke and Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay: Frances Marion (story), John Lee Mahin and John Meehan
Music: Paul Marquardt (uncredited) and Frank Skinner (uncredited)
Cinematography: Lester White
Editor: Robert Kern
Art Direction: Fredric Hope and David Townsend
"It was a story I worked on for Clark Gable and Jean Harlow and they cast it with Max Baer and Myrna Loy - complete opposites." - Howard Hawks on The Prizefighter and The Lady
Howard Hawks’ brother-in-law, Irving Thalberg, scored one of his most brilliant triumphs at MGM studios when he signed screenwriter Frances Marion to a long-term $3500 a week contract on August 24, 1926. Although this contract made Marion the highest paid writer in Hollywood, she was worth every penny.
In 1930, she won a Best Writing Oscar for “The Big House” and went on to score another one two years later for “The Champ.” These were the first screenwriting Oscars ever earned by a female writer.
In the spring of 1932, MGM had great hopes for Marion’s next project. “The Sailor and The Lady” would star Clark Gable as a gruff but lovable sailor who falls for a high society girl. Howard Hawks had signed on to direct the picture. Although Marion considered the story “warmed-over pudding,” she dedicated several weeks to creating a viable script.
When she finally turned in her hard-earned first draft, she was stunned to discover that Clark Gable was no longer available to make the movie. MGM had signed heavyweight boxer Max Baer and decided to change the story to feature a fighter. The studio ordered her to rewrite the script to accommodate these changes and, much to their surprise, their star screenwriter refused.
Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney was her friend. Tunney had married a beautiful society girl and the writer strongly believed that the couple would think she was exploiting their romance in writing such a similar story.
MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer was also a person of strong beliefs. For instance, he believed when he was paying a writer $3500 a week that writer had to write what he wanted when he wanted it. She was not so gently reminded that the studio held all the winning cards in this hand. Reluctantly, she went back to work changing the light-hearted Gable romance into one built around the violent, male-dominated world of boxing.
The change in story and the change in lead actor also had an impact on director Howard Hawks. He’d been good friends with Clark Gable for quite a while and was looking forward to working with him. The original story sounded like his kind of movie with a variety of entertaining possibilities, the new direction interested him a lot less.
As is often the case when Howard Hawks did not finish a film that he started, there is some doubt whether he was fired or he quit. Hawks claimed that he stayed on the directing job as a favor “to do a couple of weeks’ work with Baer and teach him a little about acting.” Hawks said he “made two or three good opening scenes and then Van Dyke stepped in and shot the rest.”
Others claim that Hawks managed to fall six days behind schedule within the first two days of shooting and that an exasperated Louis B. Mayer quickly got rid of him and brought in Van Dyke who had a reputation for completing films quickly and bringing them in under budget.
Whatever the case, “The Prizefighter and The Lady “shows little Howard Hawks influence; it does, however, remain an interesting period piece with performances by then heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, past champion Jack Dempsey, and future champion Max Baer, ably enhanced by wonderful work from veteran actors Myrna Loy and Walter Huston.
Despite the frustrating work situation, Frances Marion earned a third Academy Award nomination for the much revised script that became “The Prizefighter and The Lady.”
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.