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The Champ is a 1931 movie that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was written by Frances Marion, Leonard Praskins and Wanda Tuchock, and directed by King Vidor. The movie stars Wallace Beery (Andy "Champ" Purcell) and Jackie Cooper (Dink), and tells the story of a washed up alcoholic boxer who tries to put his life together for the sake of his young son.

Beery won the Oscar for Best Actor (sharing the prize with Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and Marion for Best Story.


Screenwriter Frances Marion wrote the title role specifically for Wallace Beery, who by 1931 was no star but merely an aging character actor. Despite the melodramatic script, director King Vidor eagerly took on the film as emphasized the traditional family values and strong belief in hope that he felt was essential to a good motion picture. Wallace Beery claimed to have turned down a $500,000 offer from a syndicate of Indianmarker studios to play Buddha in order to take the role in The Champ. Cooper was paid $1,500 a week while working on the film. A special outdoor set, rather than location shooting, was built to accommodate the Tijuana horse racing track scenes. Shooting began in mid-August 1931. Shooting ended eight weeks later, at which time Jackie Cooper's contract with Paramount Pictures was transferred to MGM.

The Champ debuted on November 9, 1931, at the Astor Theatre in New York Citymarker. Wallace Beery flew his own plane from Los Angeles, Californiamarker, cross-country to attend the premiere. After the film's debut, Beery declared Cooper was a "great kid" but that he would not work with the child actor again, a promise he broke within the year.


Andy "Champ" Purcell (Wallace Beery) is a prizefighter. He is also an alcoholic, and his drinking problem has caused the collapse of his career. With his eight-year-old son, Dink (Jackie Cooper), Champ lives in squalid conditions and enters bottom-of-the-card matches with up-and-coming young fighters simply to put food on the table and feed his liquor habit.

Champ wins a racehorse gambling, and he and Dink decide to get out of boxing and enter the horse in a race. They go to Tijuanamarker, Mexicomarker, and enter the horse in a race there. At the race, Dink meets Linda Carleton (Irene Rich), another racehorse owner and Champ's former wife. Dink is Linda's son, whom she gave up in order to secure a divorce from Champ. Linda's current husband, Tony Carleton (Hale Hamilton), abhors Champ and the effect he has on Linda, but realizes that Linda desperately needs Dink back in her life. When Champ's horse fails to win its race, Champ becomes desperate for money. Tony offers Champ $200 to allow Linda to see Dink again. Desperate for money, Champ agrees. Linda becomes determined to take Dink away from Champ and their life of squalor. Tony asks if he and Linda can take Dink away to boarding school for six months, but Champ refuses. For his part, Dink acknowledges that Linda is his mother, but he is cold and standoffish toward her.

Troubled by his lack of money, Champ gambles heavily the next night and loses all his cash. He is forced to sell his horse, upsetting Dink. Champ secretly begs Linda for enough cash to buy back the horse, which she gives him on the condition that he let Dink decide who to live with. Rather than buy back the horse, Champ gambles heavily again, loses all his money, and starts a brawl. Believing Dink would be better off with Tony and Linda, Champ tells Dink he no longer loves him. When a weeping Dink refuses to believe that, Champ hits him. Later, upset that he has struck his son, Champ repeatedly punches his fist against a wall, injuring himself.

Tony, Linda and Dink head for New York Citymarker in the Carleton's private rail car. Before they leave, Tony secretly bails Champ out of jail. Champ returns to boxing, and is set to fight the young, aggressive Mexican national champion. Champ begins training with friends Tim (Edward Brophy) and Sponge (Roscoe Ates), but is too despondent to work out. Dink, meanwhile, decides he cannot live with Tony and Linda. He sneaks off the train in San Diego, Californiamarker, and heads back to Champ. Father and son reunite, and Champ begins training heavily for his fight in the hope he can win. But Dink, Tim, and Sponge worry that the Champ's age and rapidly deteriorating health may lead to disaster in the ring.

Fight-night arrives. Tony and Linda arrive at the arena, and Tony talks to Champ. Tony says he and Linda realize Dink wants to stay with Champ, but he is concerned that Champ might be injured in the fight. Tony even offers to pay Champ not to box, but Champ says he can beat his opponent and refuses the offer. The fight is a brutal one. Champ is brutally beaten by the Mexican, but stays on his feet round after round in a vain attempt to win the purse. Champ is finally beaten to the ground by a flurry of vicious blows, and he collapses. He is saved by the bell. In the Champ's corner, a weeping Dink begs him to throw in the towel, but Champ refuses. Champ returns to the ring, and defeats the now-overconfident young Mexican fighter.

As he leaves the ring, Champ has a heart attack. He is taken to his dressing room and dies. Linda takes the hysterical Dink in her arms and takes him away. Dink, weeping on Linda's shoulder, finally turns his face toward her and cries, "Mother!"


The film, along with Beery's role in Min and Bill, transformed Beery from aging character actor to a verified star. It also made nine-year-old Jackie Cooper the first child star of the 1930s, an era noted for its numerous, popular child actors.

At the time the movie was released, critics criticized the film's lack of originality. For example, The New York Times declared that "something more novel and subtle" was needed, although it also praised Beery's acting. Variety, too, very much liked Beery in the film, noting that he delivered a "studied, adult" performance. Time called the film repetitive, blasted Cooper for sniveling, and accused director King Vidor of laying "on pathos with a steam-shovel." Nonetheless, Time praised the movie, declaring it "Utterly false and thoroughly convincing..." Many critics cited the "special chemistry" between Beery and Cooper, which led the two actors to be paired again numerous times. Cooper and Beery had no such chemistry off-screen. "He always made me feel uncomfortable," Cooper said, and declared that Beery treated him like an "unkept dog". Despite the film's kitschiness and melodrama, critics today still highly praise The Champ.

The Champ has been described as an inverted women's film, because men are not generally depicted in the film at the top of the socio-economic ladder and because men are depicted as the primary giver of childcare. The famous final scene, in which the camera is thrust into Jackie Cooper's weeping face, has been compared to similar aggressive and intrusive camera work in classic motion pictures such as Liebelei (Max Ophüls, dir.; 1933) and Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, dir.; 1919), and the films of Roberto Rossellini.

The Champ has had significant cultural impact. A number of motion pictures in the 1930s, some of them even starring Wallace Beery, repeated the basic story about a man surrendering to drink and redeemed by the love of his long-suffering son. Film critic Judith Crist has argued that almost any film pairing an adult actor alongside a child actor must be compared to The Champ in terms of the chemistry between the actors and the effectiveness of the film. The film had an immediate impact on world cinema as well. The Champ is considered one source film which inspired Yasujiro Ozu's classic Japanesemarker film, Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy). The film was, in part, the inspiration for the father and son in the Berenstain Bears books.


The movie was remade in 1952 as The Clown, starring Red Skelton as a washed-up comedian rather than a washed-up boxer. It was remade again in 1979 by Franco Zeffirelli (see The Champ).


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