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SPORTING BLOOD which stars Madge Evans and Clark Gable is a film with
its central thesis being the struggle for redemption of both an abused
race horse named "Tommy Boy" and its owner Madge Evans. This film
fairly bursts with love for horses and horse racing. In fact, the first
thirty minutes are devoted to horses without any appearance on the part
of the two stars. When they do enter the story, we immediately are
thrust into a world of gangsters and their associates, including both
Evans and Gable. Each has made compromises in order to get where they
are. She sees a chance to straighten her life out when she inherits
"Tommy Boy." The question is... can she? And what of her relationship
with Gable? Is there enough decency left in him to chart a new course?
This film is a classic example of the old studio system at work. Both Madge Evans, and Clark Gable, were brand new at MGM. The studio bosses weren't at all sure how well either star would fare with the public. Hence, though each was working on another picture, the studio assigned them to work on weekends and holidays when they filmed SPORTING BLOOD. Only in Hollywood!
In fact, there is a sense of freshness about this film. It hasn't the ordinary Hollywood veneer to it. It makes no pretensions and avoids clichés typical of so many similar films of the 1930s. Evans and Gable are absolutely marvelous in their respective roles. Evans is especially fresh and beautiful. But... it is the way blacks are treated in this film that set it apart from most films of its time. "Tommy Boy's" trainer, Uncle Ben is black. He is as far removed from Stepin Fetchit as a teacher is from an illiterate. Indeed, Uncle Ben is central to the plot... and in as loving a manner as could be imagined. This alone sets out SPORTING BLOOD as a better film by far than many others of its day.
Finally, the camera technology was fairly crude in 1931. Film speeds were slow and the cameras sometimes weighed five hundred pounds. Remember this when you watch the racing scenes. The photography is impressive.
I recently caught this film on TCM during their celebration of Clark Gable as "Star of the Month" and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Good behind the scenes racing story, with the added attraction of a very young Clark Gable in his first top-billed role. Yes, the story is sentimental, but exceedingly well done, with excellent performances by all. But the best surprise of all is the treatment of the African American characters in the film. Considering the time period, all of the African Americans are treated as intelligent, thinking HUMAN beings, not as shuffling minstrel show caricatures. Why isn't this film better known? Catch it when you have the chance. Highly recommended!
A very realistic film about Kentucky thoroughbred raising and racing that includes a large number of black characters including featured players. John Larkin is great as is the direction in general. Madge Evans is truly beautiful. The plot ending is ingenious. It's a keeper if you've taped it off of TCM. A piece of cinema history, I think.
This is the first movie I have seen about horses that understands
horses. It also understands, better than most, the ties that grow
between the people that work with horses and their charges. The stable
hands and breeder roles are developed. Indeed, the stable hands are all
black and (for the time) are shown with a range of emotions, humanity,
and (shockingly) as having families.
Furthermore the horses are represented as having community among themselves, communicating among themselves, and even caring about the fates of other horses. Add to this the remarkable and touching scenes between the stable hands (notably John Larkin and Eugene Jackson)and the horses throughout the film. The breeder is also notably tender hearted.
The starring roles and plot are well handled. Gable appears late in the film, but commands attention. The female lead is played with backbone and heart. The plot moves swiftly, but not at the expense of creating empathy with the situations at hand. I look forward to exploring further films directed by Charles Brabin.
In the very first film in which he received top billing, Clark Gable
plays a gambler, no better than he ought to be, who by a variety of
circumstances gets ownership along with Madge Evans of his late boss's
prize thoroughbred. Lew Cody who played the boss departed this life
abruptly and Gable and Evans are left with Kentucky Derby contender
In fact the horse is the star of the film with Tommy Boy being born in a thunderstorm where his mother is trapped in mud on Ernest Torrance's farm. Next to the horse the Scotch born Torrance who conveys a real love of the breed and sport is the most memorable in the film. Gable doesn't even appear until the film is half way over.
Some black players got a lot of work from this film and the usual racial stereotyping abounds. Still these people who are grooms, stable boys, exercise riders, etc. are the backbone of the racing industry and they're there also for love of the sport and atmosphere thereof.
The inevitable which is expected actually happens, the goal of everyone who is involved in thoroughbred racing. But the trip in Sporting Blood is a nice one as Tommy Boy foils the machinations of many greedy humans. You have to see how he does it..
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Very well done especially considering the year (1931) it was made. Clark Gable was still growing as an actor and it was quite evident that he had the makings of a star. I thought the acting was excellent and never got bored throughout. The King didn't come into the movie until about the 40 minute mark or so ... that was about the only drawback for me. I am amazed at these "new" movies that have an ending you can never understand or that make you feel extremely unfulfilled after spending two (02) hours or so watching them. With the older movies one certainly does not have this problem as they all seem to have a beginning, middle and usually a terrific ending. I'll take the older movies anytime over these over the budget, overblown new ones. I highly recommend this movie as it is entertaining as well as moving.
Sporting Blood was Clark Gable's first top billed role, playing a
gangster with a softer side, willing to take the shots but not at the
expense at the life of a dumb animal. Just one problem though; he
doesn't show up until half way through! I've seen some movies in which
it takes a long time for the top billed star to show up but this is the
most extreme example I've seen of this; so don't go in expecting Gable
from scene 1. Sporting Blood has an odd narrative structure with
characters introduced late in the game and a second half which largely
contrasts the first half but it works. The first half takes place in a
peaceful farm paradise, the latter in a world of gangsters in which
Tommy Boy becomes a commodity merely being passed around.
Sporting Blood is a romantic tribute to the world of equestrianism, set in the horse racing heartland of Kentucky; and when I say romantic, I mean romantic. This is a movie which would have you believe a entire group of horses would come running to a horse being taken away in a truck as a sign of farewell. But the anamorphisation of animals doesn't end there; when Madge Evans proclaims, "What do I want to run him in the Derby for? For himself, for running for himself. Don't you think a horse has some rights, the same as you and me to run straight and honest and to give his best in order to win what he can." We're all guilty of it though, aren't we?
"Since the beginning of time the Horse has been Man's loyal friend BUT Man has not always been the friend the Horse has to Man .", this section of the opening prologue confuses me; didn't early man hunt horses for food? But I digress. I found myself getting engaged in the story with the death of Tommy Boy's mother Southern Queen (was a real horse injured here?) and I believe must of this can be credited to the very naturalistic acting present in Sporting Blood. Unlike other films of the classic Hollywood era, Sporting Blood features African American actors in prominent roles. While they are still presented in a stereotypical manner and seem dim-witted at times, they are treated with more dignity and illicit genuine emotion, especially the black children near the beginning of the film feel just like real kids.
Sporting Blood gets a major benefit from its handsome production values, location filming and impressive race footage which gets right up close to the action. The film is full of in depth compositions and extensive camera pans; just look at the gorgeous use of lighting and shadows when Tommy Boy is introduced to his new mother. It also wouldn't be pre code without some drug use thrown in there, OK its horse narcotics but still ("We've hopped him up so much in the last few months that it ain't working like it used to"). Sporting Blood isn't the most intense film ever but ia one with a relaxing charm to it.
Gable's gangster laden character career before "It Happened..."
continues in this saga about a race horse looking for respect from a
succession of owners mishandling its career. Clark may have the lead in
the film but a fine supporting cast including the horse Tommy Boy run
neck and neck throughout.
Horse breeder Jim Rellence (Ernest Torrence) is forced to shoot his prize mare Southern Queen but not before she gives birth to Tommy Boy who develops the right stuff in no time. Reluctantly he sells the horse whose new owner succumbs to dollar signs and the whims of a dilettante. Lacking horse sense and ignoring trainers advice Tommy Boy is run into the ground before being rescued by a moll (Madge Evans)left to her by a recently whacked boyfriend gambler who over estimates Tommy's abilities. She returns to Rellence's farm to get Tommy as well as herself back in shape.
Sporting Blood moves at a decent pace as it moves from owner to owner, first with the touching and warm affection of a restrained Torrance at the farm followed by a series of inept meretricious owners to Evan's Ruby who finds her own redemption in bringing Tommy Boy to the Derby. Marie Provost and Hallam Cooley provide comic relief while black actors Gene Jackson and John Larkin lend dignity instead of wide eyed Tomming to their roles in playing key contributions to the plot. Gable is self assured and imposing but Evans handles him well throughout while Tommy Boy's big heart adds to the crowded field in a suspenseful well edited finale that has Sporting Blood finishing in the money.
Pleasant movie about a racehorse named Tommy Boy and his various owners. First half is best. It actually becomes less interesting when the focus shifts to Clark Gable and Madge Evans. It's no fault of theirs; their performances are fine and they have good chemistry. But the early parts with Ernest Torrence and the black stable hands is much more moving and powerful. After this it lags some but manages to pick up towards the end. Also worth mentioning is the portrayal of black characters in this film is exceptional for the time. They're treated like human beings with real emotions and families. The racing footage is nice, though I'm not big on horse racing so I am giving a layman's opinion there. It's a surprisingly good movie. I wasn't expecting much going in. Wonderful ending, too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is this a perfect film? No, you do not see Clark Gable for the first 40 minutes of the film, it is really about "Miss Ruby (Madge Evans), and what she must do to get "Tommy Boy" her beloved horse from various owners, the worst of which are the Ludeking's (Angie & Bill), played by Marie Provost (who had one of, if not the most Horrible Hollywood fates in History) & Hallam Cooley. The horse, is used by them as a tool to make money in bets until it is broken down. Eventually Angie (the worst one), leaves Bill after he ends up in debt to gangsters (they promised wins to the gangsters), and he knows he will get killed over that. But, Ruby is able to convince Bill to do the right thing, and give "Tommy Boy" to her. They bought the horse from Owner/Trainer (Jim Rellence) Ernest Torrence, for $40,000, so he could save his stable. Of course, the goal is to return the horse to health so he can run in (and hopefully win), the Kentucky Derby, which of course, he does. Gable is interesting to watch as Gangster Warren 'Rid' Riddell (in his first starring role), and after Ruby asks why are you doing this (helping her and 'Tommy Boy")he utters a famous line that is still with us today: "Tommy Boy deserves a New Deal." Of course, being that it is Pre-Code, 'Rid' does end up with Ruby at the end, which is quite different then what happened Gangster Blackie Gallagher (another 'Decent' Gangster) in "Manhattan Melodrama" in 1934, AFTER the Code was put into place. Very highly recommended for Gable, the horse, and a very beautiful Madge Evans.
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