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Story Notes for Cinderella Man

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for Cinderella Man.

Award Notes
Paul Giamatti was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Cinderella Man.

Biographical Notes
Cinderella Man was Ron Howard’s seventeenth feature film. He and Crowe started talking about it when they were making A Beautiful Mind in 2000.

Russell Crowe had a child, Charlie, just before the movie. Co-screenwriter Goldsman thinks it “informs the performance.”

Ron Howard’s grandfather took Howard’s father to a pool hall to listen to the Braddock/Baer fight on the radio. It was the first boxing match his father had ever heard. Now he’s a life-long fan.

Russell Crowe says this is his favorite role that he’s ever played. He says for a screen actor, being in a boxing movie is like being in Hamlet.

Casting Notes
By the time Cinderella Man was released in 2005, Russell Crowe had been nominated for three Oscars. He won one of them in 2001, for his role in Gladiator.

Renée Zellweger had also been nominated for three Oscars when she starred in Cinderella Man. She won for Cold Mountain (2004) and got nods for Chicago (2002) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).

Paul Giamatti was cast because the filmmakers loved his performance in American Splendor (2003).

Connor Price (Jay Braddock) plays a young Dane Cook in Good Luck Chuck (2007).

David Litzinger plays Abe Feldman. He’s a professional boxer, not an actor. Russell Crowe wanted to fight real boxers so he could throw real punches.

Clint Howard (Backdraft, Apollo 13) plays a referee. He’s Ron Howard’s brother.

Bruce McGill (Johnston) is a character actor who’s appeared in everything from Animal House to W.

Paddy Considine plays Mike. He’s been in 24 Hour Party People (2002) and In America (2002).

Art Binkowski (Corn Griffin) is a professional Canadian boxer, nicknamed “The Polish Warrior.” The filmmakers cast him because he looked massive next to Russell Crowe.

The older bald man who appears in Braddock’s corner during the Griffin/Braddock fight scene is legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee. He trained 15 world champs, including Muhammad Ali. He also trained Crowe for the movie.

Gene Pyrz (Dock Manager) is a Canadian actor who was also in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001).

Linda Kash (Lucille Gould) has been in Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.

Troy Amos-Ross (Lewis) is another pro boxer. He competed in the fourth season of the boxing reality show The Contender (2008).

Mark Simmons (Lasky) is an Olympian for the Canadian Heavyweight Boxing Team.

Craig Bierko (Max Baer) playd Timothy in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Filmmakers cast him because he had both the charm and sophistication of Baer, along with the physicality.

Rosemarie DeWitt (who was also in Rachel Getting Married) is James Braddock’s real granddaughter. Ron Howard: “I met her because she was in the bloodline, but I cast her because of a great audition.”

Ken James plays Ancil Hoffman, Baer’s trainer. James was a boxer before turning to acting.

The announcer in the Braddock/Baer fight scene is Ron Howard’s father, Rance Howard (Gentle Ben, Chinatown).

Finance Note
They have more than one reason to celebrate. By today’s standards, that $250 is worth about $4300.

Health Note
Training for the movie, Crowe injured his shoulder so badly he had to have surgery. It delayed production. Crowe: “Braddock fought hurt. This is going to tell me about the character.”

Historical Notes
Jim Braddock started boxing when he was around 16 and turned pro at 21 in 1926.

He married his first girlfriend, Mae, in 1930.

During the depression, it was very common to mix water with milk to make the milk last longer.

Braddock really only had a solid right punch. He had never thrown a strong left.

Towards the end of the Feldman/Braddock fight, Feldman was too scared of Braddock’s right to let himself get hit again. But Braddock was too injured to actually hit Feldman with any force.

Before the Depression wiped it away, Braddock owned a cab company, a nightclub, and had $20,000 in savings.

Mae Braddock was a problem solver. Many Americans felt helpless in the Depression, but Mae came up with solutions.

In real life, Joe Gould gave the Braddocks a loan just before their electricity was going to be shut off.

Nearly 250,000 children became homeless early into the Depression.

Co-writer Cliff Hollingsworth says Braddock and his family really did have to go on public assistance. They received $24 a month for ten months.

During the Depression, neighborhoods would celebrate birthdays all at once to make it cheaper.

Primo Carnera was 6’6″ to Max Baer’s 6’2″, but Baer knocked Carnera down 12 times in one fight.

Braddock would sometimes work all day at the docks, then spend all night shoveling coal for 60 cents.

John Henry Lewis was a more modern boxer than most in that era. He was slicker, quicker, and held his hands in a higher stance than boxers at that time.

Braddock knocked down Lewis twice: once in the fifth and once in the tenth.

Lasky permanently damaged Braddock’s ribs in this fight. He was known for his heavy body punches.

During the Depression, Shantytowns sprang up all over the country.

“Hooverville” is a sarcastic jab at President Herbert Hoover, who many blamed for the Great Depression.

Braddock never went down to Hooverville. The scene when he does was added to show the context of the era.

During the Depression, funeral homes sometimes took care of burial expenses for free.

Braddock not only returned his relief money. But he paid it back with interest.

Braddock didn’t intend for anyone to find out about him returning the relief money. Once the press ran the story, though, he became a folk hero and household name.

Braddock never liked being labeled a “Cinderella Man.”

Braddock wasn’t really an “old man” around the time of his fight with Baer. He was only 29, but his body had been through a lot.

None of Braddock’s kids did become boxers. His sons, Jay and Howard, both worked in construction.

Braddock bulked up from 170 lbs. to 191 for the Baer fight.

Mae only watched her husband fight one round in her entire life. She couldn’t stand to ever watch again.

The Garden arena was full of Braddock’s fans — poor people who scraped together pennies to be there.

Baer won the heavyweight championship from Primo Carnera exactly 364 days before his fight with Braddock.

Almost no one bet on the Braddock/Baer bout because the odds were 15-to-1 in Baer’s favor.

Baer always fixed his shorts and wiped off his gloves so he would look prim and proper in the ring.

Location Notes
Cinderella Man was shot in Toronto instead of New York. Production Designer Wynn Thomas says New York had “changed too much” since the Depression to shoot there.

The real Madison Square Garden Bowl was roofless and located in Long Island City, Queens. The scene was shot at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Music Notes
“Cheer Up, Smile, Nertz” by Eddie Cantor, 1931. Howard says this song is “biting and critical.” It’s “so political” and “revealing of the anger” of the times.

The score for Cinderella Man was composed by Thomas Newman. He has ten Oscar nominations for movies like American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption.

Pop-Culture Notes
Mickey Rooney (National Velvet) and George Raft (Scarface) were famous actors in the ’20s and ’30s.

Dir. Ron Howard uses the same “punch” joke in this movie and Parenthood (1989). He says, “It got the same huge laugh.”

Max Baer’s son, Max Baer Jr., became famous for playing Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Press Note
Cinderella Man is on many critics’ lists of the best movies of 2005.

Quotation Notes
Russell Crowe, who plays boxer Jim Braddock, calls it the story of “a great American life.”

Ron Howard: “The story of their love is central to their survival… as central as Braddock’s skill in the ring.”

Filming the boxing sequences was so brutal. Crowe says the movie was “four-to-five times more difficult than Gladiator.”

Ron Howard says that Russell could “express the humiliation [of being unemployed] without being self-pitying.”

Art Binkowski (Corn Griffin) says Braddock is essentially “being fed to the dogs” in the Braddock/Griffin fight.

Ron Howard: “Mae Braddock never trusted Joe Gould.”

Bruce McGill (Johnston): “It’s all selling. It’s an athletic endeavor, but it’s showbiz.”

According to Ron Howard, Gould really did sell his furniture to finance Braddock’s comeback.

Paul Giamatti: “You have 60 seconds to get a point across to a guy that’s been getting hit in the head. So you have to be clear.”

Howard says Braddock didn’t have a passion for boxing. “He was fighting as a job. As a career….” he was fighting for his family.

Max Baer was known to be a playboy. Ron Howard calls him “the first great celebrity boxer.” Around the time of his fight with Braddock, he starred in a movie called The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933).

Ron Howard: “Mae Braddock loved Jim. And hated boxing.”

Producer Brian Grazer says Mae has a secret. She’s “not sure that her husband’s that good of a boxer.”

Author and boxing fan Norman Mailer said, “Baer got spoiled. He wasn’t used to getting hit.”

Trainer Angelo Dundee says Crowe was so skilled and dedicated that he “could have been a fighter.”

Ron Howard says that when Braddock won the fight with Baer, “it was a city-wide if not nation-wide celebration.”

Script Notes
The filmmakers made sure the finances were accurate to the time.

Braddock’s real children were supportive of this movie as long as it portrayed their dad accurately. They even shared insight and some family letters to help with the screenplay.

In real-life, Mae forced the kids to return a waiter’s tip they’d stolen. Co-writer Cliff Hollingsworth used the incident for the screenplay.

Co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman says that one line that really represents Jim Braddock is “He had a persistive spirit despite this endless downward spiral.”

Mike is one of the only characters not based on a real person. He’s a combination of Braddock’s friends.

Ron Howard wanted an “echo of families falling apart” in the movie.

Set Notes
The filmmakers based the dock scenes on the Depression-era photographs of Lewis Hines. Hines’s photographs helped change child-labor laws.

Russell Crowe spent almost a year training for the boxing sequences in Cinderella Man. He set up a ring and training facilities on his farm in Australia.

Art Binkowski (Corn Griffin) didn’t like being knocked down during the Griffin/Braddock fight scene. He’d never fallen in a real fight, and he didn’t want his opponents to think it was even remotely possible.

Russell Crowe had approached Renée Zellweger to play the role of Mae all the way back in 1998. He says that through the years when he was trying to get it made, she always “said yes.”

Crowe’s actual daily training: running, swimming, boxing, weight lifting, more boxing, and yoga.

Russell Crowe and Mark Simmons (Lasky) had over 300 choreographed punches to learn for the Braddock/Lasky fight.

Ron Howard played old boxing footage in the production office around the clock while shooting.

Giamatti would whistle around set. Crowe insisted on finding a way to get it into the movie.

All of the dialogue in the Braddock/Baer fight scene was improvised. Ron Howard wanted “a cacophony of sound.”

The arena was filled with 1,000 live extras and over 15,000 inflatable dolls.

Ron Howard told Craig Bierko (Baer) that Baer’s right punch “looks like he’s throwing a hammer.”

Russell Crowe and Craig Bierko weren’t friendly on set. Crowe even excluded Bierko from his 40th birthday party while shooting to heighten their tension.

Source Note
Braddock really was quoted as saying that he was tired of seeing all the empty milk bottles.

Sports Notes
A boxer’s punch is like being struck with a 13 lb. bowling ball traveling at 20 mph.

A match like the Braddock/Baer fight couldn’t even exist today. That was a 15-round fight, and now they’re limited to 12.

Symbolism Notes
The filmmakers used warm colors and shades of gold to accentuate the Braddocks’ wealth here.

Mike’s story is a parallel of Braddock’s story, which is a parallel of millions of Americans at that time. They wanted to show how other people handled the Depression compared to how Braddock did.

One of the main themes of Cinderella Man is that this story is like a fairy tale. Co-screenwriter Goldsman says fairy tales are full of hard times “for the people that live inside them.”

Braddock was more than a fighter, he was a symbol of America’s ability to come out on top during hard times.

Tech Notes
At one point, a cut during a continuous camera move is hidden by fading to black. Alfred Hitchcock used the same device in his movie Rope (1948), which was supposed to be all one shot.

Sound designer Chic Ciccolini used watermelons, beef, and broken glass to create the punch sounds.

Trivia Notes
Boxers use tape to keep the bones in their hands from moving when delivering a punch. It reduces the risk of a “boxer’s fracture,” which is a broken metacarpal bone, little finger, or ring finger.

The average boxer spends about six weeks training for a fight.

The filmmakers called the Griffin vs. Braddock bout scene the “thousand punches” fight, after a real Braddock quote.

The Braddock/Baer fight scene is the first time in the movie Crowe fights another actor instead of an actual boxer. Ron Howard says they were all “on pins and needles.”

Baer was known for getting inside the heads of other boxers. Wayne Gordon, one of the boxing trainers on the movie, says the sport is all about “mental toughness.”

The ice-cold coin against Braddock’s ear is being used to reduce some of his swelling. It’s an old trick of trainer Angelo Dundee’s from when he was a bucket boy in this era.

Often when champions train for a fight, their sparring partners are too scared to hit them hard.

In the Depression era, many people felt a heavyweight champion had to be knocked out to lose his title.

Cinderella Man was universally praised by critics when it was released. Theaters even gave a money-back guarantee that anyone who bought a ticket would love the movie. It’s considered one of the greatest underdog stories ever told and was nominated for three Oscars in 2006.

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