Million Dollar Baby (aka Rope Burns), by F.X. Toole

Second paragraph of third story (which as it happens is “Million Dollar Baby”, on which the film was based):

The voice of Frankie Dunn pierced. In the same sentence it could climb high and harsh or loop sweet as a peach, like Benny Goodman playing “Body and Soul,” or go on down deep as a grizzly’s grunt. It could move sideways on you and then curl back on itself, but always the voice pierced the mind with images that stuck, because the sound out of the old man painted pictures that became part of you, made you hear his voice when he wasn’t even there. When Frankie Dunn told a fighter how to move and why, the fighter could see it through Frankie’s eyes, and feel it slip on into his own flesh and down into his bones, and he’d flush with magic of understanding and the feeling of power. Some called the old man Doc, some called him Uncle Frank. Old-time black fighters and trainers called him Frankie Dunn Frankie Dunn, repeating his name with a nod or a smile. Frankie loved warriors.

In my sequence of Oscar/Hugo/Nebula film-watching, I generally try and read the books on which films are based in the week and write them up at the same time. This collection of short stories is long out of print, and it took me a lot longer to source than I had expected, so I’m finally getting around to writing it up now, some time after watching the film.

The story of the book is a little sad: the author, whose real name was Jerry Boyd, published the book in 2000 at the age of 70, after many rejections from publishers, and died in 2002, just a few weeks after learning that Clint Eastwood wanted to make a film based on it. The original DVD release included paperback copies of the book in every box (which makes it really weird that it was so difficult to track down a copy). But there you go.

These are six nice short pieces, all of them acutely observed from the perspective of an Irish-American who lived in California. Being stories about boxing, they are mainly about men, with the obvious exception of “Million Dollar Baby”. Most of them have rather downbeat endings; in one memorable case, almost all of the main characters die horribly.

There is a lot of fighting; it’s interesting that the Clint Eastwood film cuts Maggie’s brother from the plot of “Million Dollar Baby”, therefore also losing the crucial physical confrontation in a hospital car park between him and Clint’s character Frankie. But there is a lot of character and human observation as well.

Personally, I’m not at all a fan of fighting, but this did bring me a certain amount of empathy with those who are. If you are lucky, you can get it here.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011)

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