How Cinderella Man sucker punches the Jewish boxer Max Baer.

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June 2 2005 3:51 PM

Fight Snub

How Cinderella Man sucker punches the Jewish boxer Max Baer.

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Despite the star on his trunks that night, Baer was never a practicing Jew. His tenuous claim, however, seems to have been good enough for Jewish fight fans. Schaap writes that, on the night of the Braddock fight, "Of the 30,000 people in the Bowl, virtually everyone except the Jews was cheering for Braddock."

Stepping back, Baer's "Jewishness" was only one aspect of his elaborate self-invention. In 1933 he starred with Myrna Loy and his upcoming opponent Primo Carnera in The Prizefighter and the Lady, in which he played an all-American underdog who challenges Carnera for the championship. The film was a success and Baer received good reviews for a role that included singing and dancing. It played for a while in Germany, until Goebbels banned the film because Baer was in the cast. But his most enduring film is the 1956 anti-boxing exposé The Harder They Fall, adapted from a Budd Schulberg novel. The film is a virtually undisguised scandal-mongering account of events leading up to the Baer-Carnera fight of 1934. While the justifiably aggrieved Carnera sued Columbia Pictures and Schulberg, Baer gamely played a vicious caricature of himself, a portrait not unlike the Baer we see in Cinderella Man. Schulberg slammed The Harder They Fall as naively sensationalistic, singling out the film's use of Baer: "Maxie Baer, who queens through this incredible part, may have been a tamed tiger but he wasn't a monster."

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Even though Baer underachieved as a boxing talent, he still has the distinction of being a feared fighter who wore a conspicuous Star of David on his trunks in the dangerous years of the 1930s. He died of a massive heart attack at the age of 50 in 1959. (Among other things, he didn't live to see his son achieve television celebrity as Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies.) Cinderella Man may reduce Baer to a crude and simplistic villain, but Baer probably would have enjoyed the movie anyway—he despised boxing. "He thought it was horseshit," says his son. "He really wanted to be an actor."

David Fellerath writes about movies for the Independent Weekly of Durham, N.C.