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January 16, 2015

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Page16 J BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, JANUARY 16, 2015 Steve Morgan vs. Primo Carnera Dempsey, Loy, Huston, Kruger "The Prizefighter and the Lady" Primo Camera, Myrna Loy, and Max Baer giving Loy the eye. Boxers have appeared in many movies over the years, usually as, well, boxers. Most of the time they are cast as extras and in minor roles or as window dressing. "On The Waterfront" had a number of ex pugs in it; men such as Tony Galento and Abe Simon. Jersey Joe Walcott had a decent role in "The Harder They Fall." Curtis Cokes did a great job in his part in "Fat City", and perhaps the best ever was former heavyweight contender Jack O'Halloran in his role as Moose Molloy in "Farewell My Lovely" a performance that was worthy of an Academy Award nomina- tion. Jack also went on to play Non in the Superman movies. In 1933 a movie was made that featured boxers, including the current heavyweight champion in leading roles. What made this movie even more interesting is the fact that not only was the champion in it, but he would defend his title against the num- ber one real life contender in this fictional story. In a year's time these two would meet for real. This is something that has never hap- pened before or since. The movie was "The Prizefighter and the Lady" starring Max Baer and Myma Loy. This was not some novelty movie but was indeed a serious movie directed by W. S. Van Dyke. Originally, the movie was going to be called "The Sailor and the Lady" and was to be di- rected by Howard Hawks and star Clark Gable. When it turned out Gable was not available for the role, the producers took another tact and rewrote the script with the now very popular Max Baer cast in the leading role. During the planning of the film. and with Baer already east, Primo Camera won the heavyweight ttfle, and according to Frederic Mullally in his fine biography "Primo", the people at MGM decided to try and lure the reigning champ into playing himself in the movie. The original script called for Baer to defeat Camera, but the champ would not agree to that. However, a rewrite changing the outcome to a draw, along with $25,000.00 was enough to get the Italian giant to step into the role. There are many stories about how Baer, knowing he would be fighting Carnera sometime in the near future, did his best to intimidate the champion. Baer also got to spend valuable time in the ring with Primo as they filmed the fight scenes, which are actually quite good. It is said that Max figured out Camera would be easy to hit with a right hand from these sessions. The story is nothing deep, but interesting none the less. Baer plays a barroom bouncer named Steve Morgan who is discovered one night by a washed up manager known as the Professor, played by Walter Huston. The Professor sees Morgan in action disposing of a couple of ruffians in a bar. He convinces Steve to take a bout and from there on out it is one victory after another that leads Steve to a title shot. While doing roadwork, Morgan encounters Belle Mercer who has been in a car acci- dent while almost running Steve over. Mor- gan falls head over heels for Belle, but Belle is the girlfriend of notorious gangster Willie Ryan (Otto Kruger). Belle tries to resist Morgan's overttires to her but finally gives in and the two are married. Ryan is not happy with this, but allows Steve to live fig- uring eventually Belle will realize the folly of her ways. Soon enough she funds out that her new husband cannot resist the ladies and leaves Steve to return to Ryan. It is at this point a despondent Morgan, having now lost his wife, and the Professor whom he slapped in an argument , gets his shot at the title in a bout that is financed by Willie Ryan. Ryan figures Morgan will take a beat- ing from Camera and is looking forward to seeing him get his just deserts. Jack Dempsey, playing himself, is cast in the role of promoter for the fight. He also plays the referee. According to Turner Clas- sic Movies, Dempsey was chosen to play the referee so he could keep control of the two future adversaries during f'dming of the fight scenes. Baer showed great acting ability in his role as Steve Morgan. Not only could he act, he also has a large song and dance scene where he proves he can sing and move gracefully about the stage. This scene in- cludes some gymnastics by the very agile contender. At the time of its release the New York Times gave it an excellent review pointing out Baer's great potential as an actor. I quote critic Mordaunt Hall: "Mr. Baer is easily the Jess Willard, Max Baer, Unknown, Jim Jeffries, Jack Dempsey, and Camera outstanding thespian graduate of the squared ring ... His voice is clear and pleas- ing and it causes one to wonder whether his success as a player will not interfere with his fighting." Mr. Hall goes on to praise Max's versatil- ity as a song and dance man. It appears that playing in the movies did not get in the way of Baer's boxing career, but, like the char- acter he portrayed, the nightlife did. There are many great scenes in this movie for boxing lovers. Before the tide bout former champs Jess Willard, James J. Jeffries, Billy Papke, Joe Rivers, and Jack/e Fields are in- troduced. There is a moment where Willard goes up to Dempsey and they briefly discuss their Toledo battle. Everyone in this movie is good. Jack Dempsey shows his acting chops, and Primo Camera, while not given much of a speak- hag role, appears relaxed and natural in front of the cameras. I highly recommend this film for boxing fans and movie fans. It is a much overlooked piece of film and boxing history. Oh yes, Steve does get Belle back at the end of the movie. Next week I will write about the actual Baer-Carnera bout. He is the man of the hour, the talk of the town, and for at least the time being, the rejuvenator of an entire team. Perhaps that's a bit too much for an 18-year-old NHL rookie to comprehend, but that is what David Pastrnak has become, bursting onto the scene and brightening these cold January nights with a fresh enthusiasm that appears to have spread throughout the Bruins locker room. He seems to be just what was needed to lift the Black and Gold out of the attitudi- nal doldrums as the team seems to have returned to playing with a renewed spark and energy, charac- teristics that were missing in the 2014 portion of the schedule. "We hadn't seen a lot of life in the first half (of the sched- ule)," noted Coach Claude Julien, who did indeed seem to speak with a renewed en- thusiasm in his postgame press conference following his squad's 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay, the top team in the Eastern Conference. "It seemed like it was hard to get things going," recalled Julien as he spoke about the previous months of the cam- paign. "When you have a dif- ferent lineup every night and different players playing in different places it isn't easy. But it's starting to come around and some- times you need a little bit of time for it to do that. Our players are feeling it right now and when you feel it you've got more energy. When you're feeling it, there's no doubt you're a bit more inclined to step in and do the things you have to do. This is more like the team we haven't seen for a long time." In short, the type of Bruins that won a Stanley Cup (2011) and reached another Stanley Cup Final (2013). That type of team is back. For how long? Who knows? But it is. It would not be accurate to credit Pastrnak for all of this, but he may well have been the one to light the fire. "It's always exciting to have one of those guys that has unbelievable speed and hands," noted Julien with satisfaction. "He's a young player and certainly he can bring a lot to the table." And how many times have you heard a coach say this about a player? "I enjoy watching him play." Yes, Julien did say that, perhaps the highest form of praise that a coach can give to an athlete. While Pastrnak's on-ice contributions (a pair of two- goal games against Philadel- phia and Tampa Bay) have been extolled by many, it is his attitude that has caught fire with his teammates. "He's come in here and been himself," said Julien who has seen quite a num- ber of players parade through the B's locker room over the years. "He's a nice person and it's easy to respect him. He's always got a smile on his face. He loves the game. It's pretty obvious he comes to the rink every day happy to be doing what he's doing." To be sure there is a con- cern among the Bruins management and coaching staff. One aspect is some- thing that has not changed since the Bruins Develop- ment Camp back in July -- when Pastrnak caught the eye of GM Peter Chiarelli. The concern centers on Pastrnak's weight -- around 170 -- and that's being gen- erous. In society that would be a good weight for a 6-0 male. But not in today's NHL. Many players weigh much more -- over 200 -- and the thinking is that Pastrnak might get seriously injured if checked hard by someone who weighs considerably more. In addition, if Pastrnak continues his scoring ways, opponents will employ strat- egies in an attempt to rein in his game. It's conceivable that he could be challenged, Will he be able to handle himself facing a direct physical challenge by an opponent outweighing him by 30-40 pounds? Although perhaps said in jest during training camp back in September, when he was asked what it would be like to scrimmage against B's Captain Zdeno Chara (6-9, 255), Pastrnak did respond in a telling way with one word: "scary." There are other large players in the NHL and "scary" might well become a reality sooner rather than later. Interestingly, by the time you read this the young man's fate for the 2014-2015 season will have been de- cided. Because of his entry level contract, Pastrnak could only play I0 NHL games before a decision was made for the balance of the campaign. By the MLK weekend he'll either be back in Providence or still with the Bruins. Whatever happens, it seems reasonable that a ca- reer with the Bruins holds the potential of being bright and memorable. But whether that potential will become a reality over the course of the long term is something that can't be predicted right now. Let Pastrnak speak for himself: *I'm Just trying to play my best for the team. That's all I'm focusing on." Well spoken, David. Let's enjoy these good times for as long as they last.