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Synopsis: Tommy McCoy, the son of a destitute former Vaudeville star, earns money by singing in pool halls. When his father Brian discovers his talent for boxing, he pushes Tommy into the ring but continually gambles away his son's winnings. Tommy's accidental killing of one of his old friends during a boxing match earns him the moniker "Killer McCoy" and forces him to consider leaving boxing altogether. However, his spendthrift father has already sold his contract to Jim Carson, a respected investment banker who runs a booking operation on the side under the name of Cain. Tommy's growing love for Carson's daughter Sheila threatens to bring the separate worlds into collision.
The Crowd Roars (1938), along with Robert Taylor's previous film A Yank at Oxford (1938), was part of a concerted effort by MGM to give Taylor a more masculine screen persona. Although he was extremely successful as a romantic lead in films such as Camille (1936) and easily the most handsome lead actor of the time, both his looks and the roles he had been given so far led to concerns within the studio that he was being perceived as effeminate. These concerns were reinforced by a slight drop in his box office receipts in 1937.
The studio's masculine makeover for Taylor included not only new roles, but a careful publicity campaign. In one press release, they compared Taylor's physique before and after training for the role; among other things, it stated that his chest measurements increased from 37 inches to 43 inches and his biceps from 12 to 14 inches. A few days before the film opened Hedda Hopper wrote in her widely syndicated column: "They certainly made Bob Taylor work overtime, proving he was a he-man in that picture. Never had to prove it to me--I have always known it." The studio also released a publicity still with the title "Film Fighter Takes Bride," depicting Robert Taylor and Maureen O'Sullivan's fictional wedding in the film. (In real life, Taylor wedded Barbara Stanwyck the following year.) At the same time, the studio hedged its bets by giving Taylor glamour-lighting in some of his close-ups and having him wear a tuxedo at a ball.
The Crowd Roars was produced in April and May of 1938. Because Richard Thorpe was already working on Three Loves Has Nancy (1938), Victor Fleming stepped in to film retakes in July; the film was released theatrically a few weeks later, in early August. The noted boxers Max "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom, Jimmy McLarnin and Jack Roper acted as consultants and also appeared as themselves in brief cameos.
The trade reviews in papers such as Variety and The Motion Picture Herald were mostly enthusiastic. The Los Angeles Times film critic Philip K. Scheuer noted up front that the film was "intended to vindicate the handsome young actor's manliness, which has been impugned in some quarters." He went on to describe it as "corking entertainment, the best in the prize-ring line since Wayne Morris knocked 'em dead in Kid Galahad ." Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times was more skeptical, writing: "If you can visualize Robert Taylor as a prize-fighter known as Killer McCoy, you won't find it hard to accept the other fictional premises [...]" Nugent nonetheless admitted that he found the depiction of McCoy's life as a prize-fighter "almost credible, though in spots the details do seem rather elegantly MGM."
In particular, the child actor Gene Reynolds was widely praised for his touching and believable performance as the young Tommy McCoy. Also watch for montage sequences by Slavko Vorkapich; the most memorable is the first, which depicts Tommy's transition from a young boy to a professional fighter using repeated superimpositions of the word "YEARS." The film was remade in 1947 as Killer McCoy, directed by Roy Rowland and starring Mickey Rooney.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay: Thomas Lennon, George Bruce and George Oppenheimer, from a story by George Bruce
Photography: John Seitz
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Film Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Montage Effects: Slavko Vorkapich
Cast: Robert Taylor (Tommy McCoy), Edward Arnold (Jim Cain/Jim Carson), Frank Morgan (Brian McCoy), Maureen O'Sullivan (Sheila Carson), William Gargan (Johnny Martin), Lionel Stander ("Happy" Lane), Jane Wyman (Vivian), Nat Pendleton ("Pug" Walsh), Charles D. Brown (Bill Thorne), Gene Reynolds (Tommy McCoy as a boy), Emma Dunn (Laura McCoy, uncredited).
by James Steffen
"Crowd Roars Vigorous Drama of Prize Ring." Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1938, p.10."Film Fighter Takes Bride." Los Angeles Times. August 22, 1938, p.11.Hopper, Hedda. "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood." Los Angeles Times. August 3, 1938, p.9.Nugent, Frank S. Review of The Crowd Roars. New York Times. August 5, 1938, p.11.Scheuer, Philip K. "Taylor film top-notch attraction." Los Angeles Times. August 25, 1938, p.11.Scott, John. "Film flaw snickers irk studios to action." Los Angeles Times. May 29, 1938, p. C1.Wayne, Jane Ellen. Robert Taylor. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.