The Cinderella Man
The Story of James J. Braddock
James J Braddock, the heavy weight boxing legend, was a true American hero when an American hero was needed. The movie “The Cinderella Man,” produced by Ron Howard, accurately presents the story of James J Braddock as a boxer and a family man during the great depression in the United States of America. As a very fitting title, the phrase, “The Cinderella Man” refers to how he “took the most adverse conditions and lifted himself out of it.” (Mike Delisa, Boxing Historian) Ron Howard, the producer, does a great job of accurately depicting the harsh living conditions during the great depression in the United States as he shows it from a common family’s perspective, James J Braddock’s family.
The film takes place during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, covering the boxing career of “The Cinderella Man.” James J. Braddock was born on June 7, 1905 in New York City, New York. He married and had 3 kids. When the film starts it first shows a short clip of James with his family in a nice house, obviously showing his life after having become a successful boxer. After only a few minutes of the happy scene of James with his family in a prosperous situation it flashes back to 1933, just a few years earlier. I think the producer does this in order to really emphasize the work that went into coming out on top. He, the producer, wanted us as viewers to see that some of the commodities that we take advantage of were really hard to come by during that time.
The difference between his living conditions before and after is the difference between night and day. It shows the family living in a small apartment. The three kids all sharing a bed. The family eats a simple breakfast of ham without even enough to go around. James goes out to check for the daily milk supply and finds nothing but empty bottles with a note saying that they were behind on their payments. With the little milk left over from the day before James’s wife makes it render a little more by adding water to it, something that to most Americans now days would not drink even if they were paid to do so. That morning James goes to the dock hoping he would find work for that day and they don’t give him a shift. That kind of work was hit or miss, due to the large amounts of unemployed Americans looking for a day’s work.
We ask ourselves, how did the prosperous America fall into the great depression? Although the movie does not explain how this happened in the United States, I think it would be important to give a little back ground and talk about what exactly caused the great depression. It’s important to remember that it was not only a hard time for the United States but was actually worldwide, a hard decade during the late 1920’s to the late 1930’s. In 1929 the stock market crashed causing investors to stop investing. This reduced overall spending and many companies had to lay off workers because it was losing customers. By 1933 some 13- 15 million Americans were unemployed. That is just a brief overview of what happened. It was also the over production on the farms that led to this problem.
Focusing again on the film we can now understand a little more of the cause of the great depression and understand why times were so tough. At this point, James is already a fighter but cannot get by just on the purses he would receive for winning a fight. The more he wins, the larger the purses but it took a lot of wins before the purse actually became a substantial amount of money. James’s first fight shown in the flash back to 1933 was for a purse of $50. James breaks his hand in the 5th round leaving James only with his left, which he had never really developed because his right hand was always his stronger hand. The fight became sloppy and the referee ends up calling the fight a “no contest” meaning neither fighter gets the money and they stop the fight right then and there.
The producer does a good job of showing how the boxing environment was. Boxing, as were other sports, was a chance for people to gamble, place bets on who would win. Having so much riding on each match, it kept the crowd very lively and on its toes. Not only was it an opportunity to gamble but also a popular source of entertainment so when people went to these fights they expected a show and when they didn’t see level of entertainment they wanted they would become very frustrated.
The following day after James’s drawl he meets a man working at the docks and they talk a little about what they used to do before the great stock market crash of 1929. They had both worked as stock brokers and had lost almost everything. James, trying to be optimistic says “we’ll work our way through this. FDR, he’s gonna handle it.” His friend responds by saying “screw FDR.” Although President Roosevelt was well liked by most Americans there were some that had simply lost hope in everything and everyone, even the well liked president. Later we see how important President Roosevelt’s time in office was for the United States of America; he did in fact help the United States come out of the great depression.
In almost every scene there are small clues of how life was during the great depression. An example of this is how he shows that some people lost faith in God. James at one point says to his wife “I’m all prayed out.” Some people left their spouses. Others sent their children off to live with a relative. The priority for everyone was simply to stay alive. Many people relied on welfare; James himself relied on welfare at one point in his life. However as soon as he had earned enough money he gave back to the government all that he had barrowed. That’s shows what kind of guy he was and that’s why he was so well liked among the poor class because that shows humility and gratitude.
A large portion of the film are fighting scenes and my focus is not on each individual fight but rather the overall success of James J Braddock and the living conditions of the great depression. That being said I want to talk a little bit about the “hoovervilles.” James’s brother in law ends up living in the “hooverville” in Central Park so James, knowing the dangerous living conditions of “hooverville” goes to see if he is doing ok. This scene shows briefly what it was like for those thousands of Americans who had lost their homes and had to live in small shacks in what was called “hooverville.” The name “hooverville” was given to these large neighborhoods of small shack houses because the people who lived there said president Hoover was to blame for the loss of their home. James’s brother in law was killed when the police were attempting to contain a few rioting Hooverville residents.
A New York Times article from September 22, 1932 states: ”The raid was staged on the orders of Deputy Parks Commissioner John Hart, who explained that the Park Department, much as it regretted it, intended to raze the settlement this morning.“ ‘We don’t want to do it, but we can’t help it,’ Mr. Hart said, adding that although the men had maintained good order, had built comfortable shacks and furnished them as commodiously as they could, there were no water or sanitary facilities near the settlement.” The Hooverville settlements were all destroyed in the 1940’s.
After winning many fights, James J. Braddock took on the defending heavyweight champion of the world, Max Bear. Max Bear was a man who was the complete opposite of James J Braddock as far as personality goes. James was humble and fought so he could earn enough money to provide for his family. That was not the case for Max; he was prideful and was known for throwing cheap shots in his fights. He had actually been the cause of two deaths in the ring. The crowd and all those that were listening in across the nation respected James for going into this fight as the underdog.
The championship fight went the full 15 rounds without a knock out, each round being the standard 2 minutes. People could not believe how well the “Cinderella Man” had done against such a fierce opponent. Having not had a knock out during the 15 rounds, it was up to the judges to decide who won. Excitement filled the air when the referee walked out to the middle of the ring and said “the winner… and new heavyweight champion,” thus indicated that Max had lost. With the winnings from the fight James bought a new house in New Jersey and lived there with his family until they passed away. His life had suddenly changed forever.
Like I mentioned before, Americans needed heroes at that time, as they do now, and that’s what James was. Although Braddock only held his position of the world’s heavyweight champion for 2 years he will always be remembered as a hero. He later served honorably in World War II, proving yet again his desires to protect that which is important to him. The film does not go on to show how the United States overcame the great depression by I feel it would be important to explain that now.
Despite the many plans and ideas carried out by Roosevelt, it wasn’t until we entered into World War II that the unemployment rate dropped substantially. When we entered World War II millions of Americans were enlisted in the war and millions more were hired to work in the defense industry working to provide the necessary war supplies. That took care of our unemployment problems but we were left with an enormous debt. However the economic growth was greater than the growth of the debt making it easier to pay off.
In conclusion we ought to remember the hard times of the great depression and recognize those heroes that motivated many Americans to keep on fighting to survive. “The Cinderella Man” is an accurate film in portraying the hopelessness and struggle of many Americans during the great depression. It is also accurate in reflecting the success of heavyweight world champion James J. Braddock. If we are aware of what it was like in those days and what caused the great depression we will be better involved in avoiding such problems today and “The Cinderella Man” is a great way to open our eyes to these problems.
National Geographic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl6ER5pwOkU/
Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/depwwii/depress/hoovers.html
History Channel http://www.history.com/topics/great-depression
Burton Folsom What Ended the Great Depression http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/what-ended-the-great-depression/#axzz2ECjcXVyb