Winner Take All (1932): Pre-Code Boxing Melodrama, Starring James Cagney.

Roy Del Ruth directed Winner Take All, a pre-Code boxing melodrama, starring James Cagney.

Rising boxer Jimmy Kane is sent from New York City to the Rosario Ranch and Hot Springs in New Mexico to regain his health after spending too much time on women and drink.

While there, he meets young widow Peggy Harmon and her son Dickie.

When Jimmy finds out that she has no money for her son’s treatment, Jimmy takes on a tough fight in Tijuana to raise the $600 she needs.

Back in New York, he is introduced by Roger Elliot to the flirty socialite Joan Gibson (Virginia Bruce). He falls for her, mistaking her interest as love.

When Pop Slavin, Jimmy’s manager, arranges for him to fight for the lightweight championship, Jimmy turns it down.  Instead, he secretly goes to a plastic surgeon to have his nose and cauliflower ear fixed after Joan criticizes those features. But after the changes, she complains to a friend that he is no longer different and colorful.

Jimmy changes his style, boxing rather than punching, to avoid damage to his new face, but the fans boo.

Jimmy tells Joan that he will fight one last time, for the championship, after which they will get married. The night of the fight, Joan is not there.  Rosebud reports that Joan is leaving on an ocean liner.

Jimmy knocks out the champion and heads to the pier. Joan lies, telling him that her sister needs her, but then Roger Elliot enters the cabin. Jimmy punches Roger and kicks Joan, clearing the way to a reunion with Peggy.

The film also features a single scene of George Raft conducting a band that had been lifted from Queen of the Nightclubs. Cagney and Raft would not make another film together until Each Dawn I Die in 1939.

Footage from Cagney’s fight scenes would be used in Cagney’s final performance, the 1984 TV-movie “Terrible Joe Moran,” the story of a former boxer.

James Cagney as Jimmy Kane
Marian Nixon as Peggy Harmon
Guy Kibbee as Pop Slavin
Dickie Moore as Dickie Harmon
Virginia Bruce as Joan Gibson
Alan Mowbray as Forbes
Esther Howard as Ann
Clarence Muse as Rosebud, Jimmy’s trainer
Clarence Wilson as Ben Isaacs
Ralf Harolde as Legs Davis, diamond ring seller
John Roche as Roger Elliot
Texas Guinan as Herself (clip from Queen of the Night Clubs)
George Raft as a bandleader (clip from Queen of the Night Clubs)


I am grateful to TCM for showing this film on November 7, 2019.