“I have to believe that when things are bad I can change them.”
If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, you’ll probably know that I am not the biggest fan of sports the universe has ever known. But while most sports bore me, movies about sports can still be great. And Cinderella Man is one of those films. (Also despite the very patriotic undertones of Far And Away and Apollo 13 I felt those were more centered on the characters than the nation that gave rise to those characters, but I really thought a great director like Ron Howard did deserve to be on this list somewhere).
For those who don’t remember this film, it is the story of Jim Broddock, a boxer who lost everything in the early days of the Great Depression, including his promising boxing career…only to make a miraculous comeback after being called on to fill in last minute for a fighter who had to bow out.
It is an American story for many reasons. The least of which is that it is the story of an underdog. Americans for all their strength in economics, military, this or that field, love an underdog, because that’s what we are. We are band of misfits who created a great economic power. We are a band of untrained militia who beat the most powerful military in the world. We are the place where someone can through willpower and skill change their life for the better. We are the place that gets knocked down time and time and time again, and always comes back stronger than before. And we love to root for underdogs like ourselves.
But like any great underdog story, this is the story of a man who survives and excels because of willpower and drive. The America Dream is not the American Dream because lots of people here can win the lottery or just find success by dumb luck—it is the American Dream because we have control of our own lives, power over our destiny—we don’t live as the victims of our circumstances but as the master of them (or at least that’s what we preach…but at least we preach this bit of truth, rather than some froggish countries that preach dependency.)
And it is again the simplicity of the American Dream that makes this movie stand out. The final title cards show that Braddock did not just blow his money (it should be noted that according to the movie he didn’t squander the money he earned early in his career…he just invested it right before the crash), but rather lived the modest American Dream most of us have in mind for ourselves and one day for our children:
“Two years later Jim Braddock put his title on the line against Joe Louis. Jim knocked him down in the first round though Louis went on to win the bout. Joe Louis would always call Jim Braddock the most courageous man he ever fought. Jim served honorably in World War II. He later owned and operated heavy equipment on the same docks where he labored during the Great Depression. In the early 1960’s he helped build the Verrazano Bridge. Jim and Mae bought a house in New Jersey with the winnings from the Baer fight. They raised their children in that house and lived there for the rest of their lives.”
Of course what really makes this movie stand out is Braddock’s behavior to the relief money (today we would call it welfare). Yes he needed to take relief money to keep the power on so that his kids could stay with him and his wife. There is nothing wrong with welfare when people are desperate and no one in this country would begrudge legitimate need (as opposed to making no effort to get on your own feet, to control your own life, to educate yourself, or to get a job…those lazy couch potatoes we have a real problem with). But what makes Braddock’s story interesting is what he did when he was back on his feet:
Reporter: Bob Johnson, Boston Globe. Two days ago, we ran a story about you giving your relief money back. Can you tell our readers why?
Jim Braddock: I believe we live in a great country, a country that’s great enough to help a man financially when he’s in trouble. But lately, I’ve had some good fortune, and I’m back in the black. And I just thought I should return it.
While there may be cases like this elsewhere, it is only the most charitable nation in the world that you will see this as not being an act of insanity, but rather an example of the best that this nation has to offer. We don’t glorify need, but we do glorify those who are able to pick themselves up to a point where they can help themselves and those around them.