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Winner Take All is a typical example of the roles James Cagney was so
trying to get away from in those early years at Warner Brothers. In
this programmer he's a lightweight prizefighter whose fans have to take
up a collection in Madison Square Garden to send him away for a rest
cure. Seems that Cagney liked the night life just a little too much and
its put his health at risk.
While in New Mexico he meets and falls for good girl Marian Nixon and her son Dickie Moore. She's there with Moore for his health problems. An out of condition Cagney takes a local fight there to help pay for their expenses on a winner take all basis and barely survives the bout.
Then when he gets back to New York he starts hanging around with bad society girl Virginia Bruce and her crowd. She makes a chump out of street smart Jimmy.
I don't think I have to say too much more. Guy Kibbee as Cagney's manager and Clarence Muse as his corner man fill their roles very well.
The only two things that Winner Take All became noted for was that this was the first time Cagney did a boxing film. He got into the ring later on in The Irish in Us and City for Conquest. But also footage from this film was used in that last Cagney made for TV film Terrible Joe Moran.
That film was a mistake whereas this one is strictly routine.
This begins slowly: James Cagney is boxer who needs some rest. He gets
sent to a rural area by his manager, Guy Kibbee. There he meets Marian
Nixon and her son, the (ostensibly) adorable Dickie Moore. He falls for
He goes back to New York and falls for high-class Virginia Bruce. And here it picks up. The early scenes are a little soppy. Back on familiar turf, Cagney can strut his stuff.
Without giving anything away, Bruce humiliates him. He makes himself over for her. There's lots more to come; so I have not given away the plot.
The cast is excellent, including the great actor Clarence Muse as a trainer named Rosebud. Nixon's role calls for her to be a little saccharine. But Bruce is excellent.
This is a change from the early Cagney movies in which he is a cocksure guy who knows the score. He knows the score, but loses track of it for a while.
There are some effeminate stereotypes, including a character played by the always entertaining Alan Mowbry. I can't hold these against the movie, though. They were of its time.
It's not Cagney at his best but it's by no means his worst, either.
James Cagney plays a dim-witted boxer who falls for a widow with a sick kid, then for a sexy socialite (Virginia Bruce). This is notable for being Cagney's first boxing movie but, beyond that, there isn't a lot to recommend here. The script's kind of all over the place, with the early scenes seeming out of sync with the rest of the picture. Cagney's performance is fine, even if he doesn't have a lot to work with. A nice supporting cast including Guy Kibbee, Alan Mowbray, and Clarence Muse helps. George Raft has a bit part as a bandleader in a night club. Blink and you'll miss him. Clips from this were used in Cagney's final movie, the made-for-TV "Terrible Joe Moran". If you're a Cagney completist, give it a shot. Everybody else go watch City for Conquest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Winner Take All" is initially most notable for the disturbing facial
make-up of Jimmy Cagney, playing a boxer; for most of the movie, his
nose is flattened and crooked, his ear is cauliflowered (although you
probably wouldn't notice it if it wasn't mentioned), and he sticks his
lips out in a way that helps physically manifest Cagney's character's
stupidity and general insensitivity.
The boxing scenes are great, and would be quite convincing even in a later decade, never mind 1932. It really does seem like many hundreds of people have gathered together in an arena to watch Cagney fight. And he dances around with ease and grace, and is quite convincing as a gladiator of the squared circle (In one fight, Cagney and his opponent knock each other down, with Cagney winning the fight by barely getting up on his feet before the 10-count ends; isn't this how Rocky Balboa took the championship from Apollo Creed 45 years later?)
The most appealing scenes of the movie are in the beginning, when Cagney romances the pretty Marian Nixon at the desert health resort. Here, he courts Ms. Nixon with consideration and gentleness, and it is quite pleasing. It is therefore disappointing when Cagney turns out to be a rather dimwitted two-timer. He never really gets the glow back that he has in the first 15 minutes, and we never quite like him the same way again.
Unusual also for the time period is the good-sized role with many lines given to the African-American actor Clarence Muse. For once a black man is treated more or less with the same respect as the other characters, without that depressing over-obsequiousness normally demanded of black characters in Hollywood's early years.
And though his role is brief, Alan Mowbray, as Cagney's instructor of society manners, manages, as usual, to be hilarious with his mannered fastidiousness and what we might call exaggerated metrosexuality. He is one of my favorite character actors.
The film moves briskly through its quick 66 minutes, and even though the ending is somewhat sudden and unsatisfactory (Nixon is clearly Cagney's second choice for a wife; and he will marry her with a stolen ring intended for someone else), the world is still much better off with these quick films that Warner Brothers pumped out in joyfully large volumes in the truly golden film era of the 1930s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Cagney played more than gangsters and dancers during his early
years as a contract star at Warner Brothers. In director Roy Del Ruth's
"Winner Take All," a funny, fast-paced Pre-Code boxing saga, he plays a
lovable, thick-headed Bronx pug named 'Knockout' Jim Kane whose manager
Pop Slavin (Guy Kibbee of "Babbitt") packs him off to a camp in the
middle of the desert to regain his health after too much booze, broads,
and beatings. The long shots of the boxing arenas as well as the
locomotive are often as striking as are some later wildlife footage.
Essentially, this romantic comedy/boxing epic is featherweight fare with competent performances. In other words, nothing tragic happens. Nobody is in jeopardy, except where money plays a part or sexual misconduct occurs. Remember this is a Pre-Code opus so Virginia Bruce shuffling through her apartment in her undies is pretty erotic for 1932. The Robert ("Dr. Socrates" Lord) & Wilson ("Heroes for Sale") Mizner screenplay contains dialogue that is often witty and memorable for such a largely disposable escapade. Del Ruth stages each scene with finesse for the spartan sets in which they occur. An excellent example of his function but dramatic mise en scene is the deal in the boxing office when Kane makes his comeback.
"Winner Take all" opens in crowded Madison Square Garden. The ring announcer introduces Kane to a jubilant audience. "Before we begin the main event, I'd like to say a few words about a boy who needs no introduction. A boy who has fought his way up to the very top, an old friend, and an old favorite 'Knock out Jimmy Kane. After a dozen tough fights, but his rough fighting has cost him and has to take off to recuperate. He needs financial help so the crowd showers him with money. The next scene his manager and trainer Rosebud (Clarence Muse of "God Is My Co-Pilot") advise him to take it easy for six months while he is recuperating out in the desert.
At the Rosario Ranch and Hot Springs, Kane feels lonely and out of place. The Interne at Rosario Ranch (George 'Gabby' Hayes) explains the schedule; bedtime at 10 PM and breakfast at 7AM. Kane hears coyotes howling his first night in residence and is curious about them. The long shots of the coyote are eye-catching and look like perfect stock footage for a vampire movie. Kane traipses onto the balcony. Peggy Harmon (Marion Nixon) and he chat about coyotes. They become fast friends when Kane remembers her from a night at a New York restaurant. Here, Del Ruth presents a flashback that depicts the incident. During this flashback, we are treated to a cameo of another Warner Brothers tough guy taken from the 1929 film "Queen of the Night Clubs"; indeed, it's George Raft as the conductor. Peggy is at Kane's table and she irritates Kane's blond girlfriend (Charlotte Merriam) who starts a fight.
Eventually, Kane meets Peg's adolescent son Dickie Harmon (Dickie Moore of "Sergeant York") whose is recuperating, too. Things take a turn for the worst for Peggy after she learns that her late husband's insurance policy won't cover the length of time required to stay at the facility to heal her son. She needs $600. Kane sneaks off to Tijuana, Mexico and schedules a fight against Joe Pice (Julian Rivero of "Guys and Dolls") with a $2000 winner take all purse. The fight promoter doesn't trust Kane because 'Knockout' hasn't boxed in a year. He fears that Kane will take a dive for the $600 and demands all or nothing. Kane pummels Pice in the ring. Pice hits the mat moments before Kane in a scene that pre-dates a similar scene in "Rocky 2." The referee hands the decision to Kane, and Kane pays Peggy's bill. Peggy is overwhelmed with gratitude. Predictably, when he learns about Kane's comeback, Pop isn't happy. Dickie's treatment isn't finished by the time that Kane heads back to New York. Before he leaves, Kane promises Peggy that they will get married.
Once he arrives back in the Big Apple, Kane crosses paths with vampy, Park Avenue type Joan Gibson (Virginia Bruce) and forgets Peg. Joan pulls jokes on him to keep him out of her room the first night they date. She asks him to behave like a gentlemen and drops her handkerchief. When he stoops to retrieve it, she slips inside her room and pulls the door shut. Joan likes Kane until he has plastic surgery and complains that he now looks ordinary. Says Joan to a friend, "The fool took me seriously went and had his face done over. Now, he's lost all the things that made him colorful and different. He's just ordinary, now like any other guy." She adds that she cannot tolerate bad grammar spoken through a perfect Grecian face.
Kane's attitude changes after his plastic surgery because he is afraid another pug will break his nose or smash his ear. He dances around fighters and the crowds start booing him. He earns a reputation as a guy who avoids punches. Pop knows what is going on and sends for Peggy. She surprises Kane when she arrives in town. Meanwhile, Kane stomps over to Joan's apartment and learns that she isn't at home. Nevertheless, he ignores the butler and finds her at home. He is righteously upset and kisses her and tells her he is all she needs. Kane's quarrels with both Peggy and Joan intensify and the resolution will keep you laughing. Cagney's performance and his accent are wonderful and the entire cast scores points for perfection. "Winner Take All" is a snappy little boxing number. Don't miss it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Winner Take All" is a 1932 precode film starring James Cagney, Marion
Nixon, Virginia Bruce, and Guy Kibbee.
Cagney plays Jim Kane, whose manager (Kibbee) sends him to a health farm in New Mexico to rest and recharge. There he meets Peggy, a former nightclub singer, who is there with her sick son (Dickie Moore, always pathetically sympathetic) and in need of money to prolong her stay.
Though he's not supposed to be boxing, Jim goes to Tijuana in order to fight and win her the money. $600 in those days was equivalent to $10,000. Expensive place.
When his stay is over, he leaves the health farm, but he and Peggy are in love and he'll be back. He becomes a big winner and attracts a woman who is captivated by him Joan (Virginia Bruce). Apparently she's holding out for a commitment because, despite her sexy clothes, he can't get to first base. He even has plastic surgery for her, to fix his nose and ears. He wants to marry her.
Out of guilt or a sense of responsibility, he sends Peggy postcards occasionally but she's no fool, she can tell the bloom is of the proverbial rose. So Peggy comes to New York to find out what's going on.
Jim confesses everything to her. He's given four $20 seats to Peggy, who is en route to a ship that's going to take her and her current beau on a long trip.
In the end, Jim gives Peggy the engagement ring he intended to give Joan, and all is well.
Since this was precode, you could not be sure of the ending, but it turns out to be fairly predictable.
This film is okay but not great, with Cagney playing an uneducated, dumb boxer who, for the sake of Joan, tries to get some class -- at one point he says, "I don't want any part of that Shakespeare guy. He's the one that ruined Gene Tunney."
As always, Cagney is energetic, and his character is volatile and will knock someone out at the drop of a hat.
I would not have ended the film like that. Had I been Peg and he told me he wanted to marry someone else AFTER she made the trip from New Mexico to New York, I would have accepted his ring, pawned it, and been gone on the next train. Oh well.
Two stories about him come to mind. One was told by Harold Kennedy, who had a small part in the film "Run for Cover." He was supposed to run into a room and give Cagney some news. When they rehearsed it, Cagney was lying down and mumbled his response. When they filmed it, Cagney jumped up, grabbed him and started screaming.
The second story was told on "Jeopardy" by a man who had once worked in a restaurant. A man wearing an old raincoat walked in. He looked almost homeless. "It turned out it was James Cagney," the man said, "I never spoke to a sweeter person in my whole life."
A unique star - a unique person - a great talent. Always worth seeing.
Winner Take All is an early Cagney punch and rudie, in which he plays Jimmy Kane, a fighter with an ambiguous relationship to the ring. Although a top contender, he's taking off for a rest to a dude spa out west. He says his goodbyes at the Garden and even allows the fight fans to throw money into the ring to speed him on his way. A pre-Gabby George Hayes welcomes him to the Rancho. He meets s single mother with a small child, the always terrific Dickie Moore. Cagney is sporting a bulbous nose and puffy ears and talks through lower eastside mush, but he's always the man. Soon he's back in the ring in a grueling bout in Mexico to raise money for his new sweetheart. The character of Kane is interesting because he seems to have no ties to anyone and is a loner of an extreme even Cagney didn't play much. Cagney, of course excels. There is a nifty little scene with Ralfe Harold who sells hot jewelry, and Virginia Bruce, who should have been a much bigger star, scorches the furniture in every scene she's in. I'll take V.B. any day over most of the other '30s fire-eaters . This picture was new to me and deserves a place in the pantheon of Warner Bros. fast and snappys, if only for the scene where Cagney delays Bruce's ship sailing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It wasn't unusual for films of the Thirties to be weak on story line
and continuity and this was no exception. It's got Jimmy Cagney going
for it, and even he seems confused at times, going through a few
changes in speech pattern over the course of the movie. He starts out
like a member of the East Side Kids and tries out a diction coach
before getting the serious heave ho from society gal Joan Gibson
(Virginia Bruce). She played her part well, making me wonder why Jimmy
Kane (Cagney) didn't take her for a few rounds in the boxing ring to
teach her a lesson.
What bothered me about the picture was the way it rushed things along without a coherent explanation for things to come. Like the opening scene when Cagney's character is introduced prior to a prize fight by the ring announcer, with an appeal for fans to contribute money to send him away to a health camp. There was no mention of an ailment, only that he needed to get some rest. Then after meeting and falling for Peggy Harmon (Marian Nixon) at the ranch, he forgets about her just about as soon as he gets back to New York. He completely reverses character after hooking up with Gibson, fawning all over her and even getting a nose job to improve his appearance, with the attendant result of a change in fighting style which turns off the fans. When he turns down a title fight with the lightweight champ I had to pinch myself, when would that ever happen? Probably a good reason for his manager (Guy Kibbee) to deck him for a wake up call.
The one scene I did enjoy was that flashback scene when Kane and Peggy reflect on the single time they met at a night club in the past. It was a throwback to "The Public Enemy" when Cagney squished Mae Clark's face with a grapefruit, but this time he used a seltzer bottle spray! I think if the picture carried through with more of that light hearted approach, it would have been much more enjoyable.
My main gripe I guess is that Cagney was a stronger character in stronger roles before this one, especially in the earlier mentioned gangster flick. Even when not top billed, his presence usually took over any scene he was in, whereas here, you sometimes wondered just what he was doing there in the first place.
Resting in the country, lightweight boxer James Cagney (as Jim "Jimmy"
Kane) meets sweet widow Marian Nixon (as Peggy Harmon) and her adorable
six-year-old son Dickie Moore (as Dickie). You can almost hear the
wedding bells warming up when Mr. Cagney gives Ms. Nixon his winnings
to save the ranch. But, when manager Guy Kibbee (as Pop Slavin) helps
Cagney to the top of the boxing circuit, the champ is lured away from
his new sweetheart by shapely New York socialite Virginia Bruce (as
Cagney tries to fit in with the upscale crowd by getting his broken nose and cauliflower ear fixed, but learns looks aren't everything. This variation on the routine boxing picture was unofficially re-made as "Kid Monk Baroni" (1952), an unintentionally amusing drama starring Leonard Nimoy. "Winner Take All" owes its limited success to Cagney's deliberate comedy, although it recalled as his first appearance in a boxing movie. For some reason, Cagney is always funny with a "dresser" and his timing is perfect herein.
****** Winner Take All (7/16/32) Roy Del Ruth ~ James Cagney, Marian Nixon, Virginia Bruce, Guy Kibbee
Winner Take All (1932)
*** (out of 4)
A hotshot New York prizefighter (James Cagney) leaves the city for the country so he can get some rest. While in the country he falls for a sweet single mother (Marian Nixon) but once he's back in the city he falls for a rich girl (Virginia Bruce) just using him. A subplot dealing with Cagney getting plastic surgery is rather weird as we get a different looking Cagney as well as one sounding a lot different. That aside, the story is actually pretty good and the moments at the start with Cagney and Nixon are very warm and touching. The film offers a lot of nice laughs and the boxing scenes are really, really good. There's one fight that has an ending, which appears to have been lifted in Rocky 2.
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