Cast & Crew
Aging cut man and boxing coach Frankie Dunn owns the Hit Pit, a downtown Los Angeles boxing gym that he runs with the help of his friend, retired boxer Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris. While Frankie coaches rising boxing talent, Big Willie Little, at the gym, amateurs train, including mildly retarded Texan Danger Barch, bully Shawrelle Berry and the eager Maggie Fitzgerald, the only woman in the gym. When Maggie begs Frankie to coach her, he coldly states that he does not train girls. A stern, tormented man, Frankie attends daily mass everyday to pray for reconciliation with his estranged daughter Katie, and gleefully challenges Father Horvak mercilessly on the fine points of Catholic theology. Although he writes Katie weekly, his letters are always returned unopened. Frankie finds solace in learning Gaelic so he can read Irish romantic poet William Butler Yeats. Meanwhile, Maggie, "trailer trash" from Southwest Missouri, works as a waitress, saving every penny and eating table scraps to pay for six months of gym dues in advance. One night when Scrap finds Maggie diligently working the bag after closing time, he offers her Frankie's old speed bag and a few tips. Learning that Scrap lives at the gym, Maggie asks to stay late to work and Scrap agrees, knowing that Maggie is a natural. When Frankie finds Maggie with the speed bag, he angrily tells her to quit, assessing that at thirty-one she is too old for training, which would take at least three more years. That night, Willie tells Frank he is leaving him for a new manager, Mickey Mack, who has promised him a title fight, thus cutting Frankie out of any potential winnings. Later at the gym, Scrap is sympathetic but reminds Frank that his need to "protect" Willie from the championship, by refusing him the opportunity for several months, forced the capable fighter to move on. After Willie wins the title championship, Frankie reluctantly takes on Maggie, on the condition that she never question him, and when the time comes, she choose another manager to arrange fights. Maggie agrees, but in her excitement cannot stop asking questions. She explains that with an incarcerated brother, an obese, mean-spirited mother and a sister cheating the government welfare system, she has only boxing, the one thing she feels good about doing. In the ensuing months, Maggie thrives on Frankie's coaching, increasing her agility and confidence, and listens as Frankie constantly warns her to protect herself. Maggie keeps asking Frankie to arrange a fight for her but, still worried that she will be hurt, he callously pushes her away by telling her to go with manager Sally Mendoza. During Maggie's first fight, Scrap tells Frankie that Sally is deliberately setting up Maggie to lose. Unable to sit idly by while she is beaten, Frankie announces that Maggie is his fighter, helps her win and promises never to leave her again. After Maggie easily wins several four-round and six-round fights in the first round, Frankie has to move her up a class, but in the first brutal round of her next bout, the other fighter breaks Maggie's nose. Knowing that the match will be called if the blood is not stopped, Maggie insists that Frankie reset her nose, a trick for which Frankie is famous. With his warning that she has only twenty seconds left before the blood flow will resume, Maggie quickly knocks out her opponent and goes on to win twelve straight fights with early knockouts. When Frankie refuses to let Maggie fight for a championship, Scrap tries to explain Frankie's reluctance by relating that Frankie had patched up Scrap's eye repeatedly during his last fight, and despite Frankie's warnings that he should forfeit the fight, Scrap insisted on staying in the ring and lost his eye as a consequence. Blaming himself for Scrap's partial blindness, Frankie is unable to put his fighters in situations in which they cannot protect themselves. Scrap then sets up a meeting for Maggie with Mickey Mack, but Maggie flatly refuses to leave Frankie. Going to Maggie's run-down apartment one day, Frankie advises her to save her winnings to buy a house. Seeing Maggie's devotion and sacrifice, Frankie agrees to let her compete against the English middleweight champion, a match worth a million dollars. At the match in London, Maggie enters the arena wearing her new silk jacket, a gift from Frankie, embroidered with the Gaelic word "Mo Cuishle," causing the crowd to start chanting the words. At first getting a pummeling by her younger, stronger opponent, Maggie wins the match after Frankie encourages her to go after the woman with her knockout punch. Following a series of successful fights in foreign cities, Maggie returns to the United States. While in Missouri for a match, Maggie asks Frankie to take her to her mother's trailer to surprise her with the title to the house that she has just bought for her family. Maggie is excited and happy to make the gift, but when they arrive, her mother Earline can only complain that the house will endanger her welfare payments, while her sister Mardell laughs at Maggie's career as a fighter. Handing her mother the keys to the house, Maggie suggests she sell it and leaves her family. During their drive home, Maggie tells Frankie a story about her deceased father, who, out of love, killed his dog Axel when the animal could no longer walk because of hip problems. When Maggie then tells Frankie he is all she has left, Frankie tells her that she has him. Knowing that Frankie loves homemade lemon pie, Maggie takes him to a roadside diner she and her father loved, and Frankie says that someday he might enjoy settling down with a place like it. Soon after, Frankie finally sets up a million dollar title match for Maggie with WBA welter weight Billy "Blue Bear," who is known for being the "dirtiest" fighter in the ring. Although her many fans once again chant "Mo Cuishle" upon Maggie's arrival in the arena, Frankie teasingly refuses to tell her the meaning. During the first and second rounds, Maggie takes a beating and suffers from Blue Bear's elbowing and illegal hits. After taking Frankie's direction to fight back in kind, Maggie knocks Blue Bear down in the third round. Infuriated by the humiliation, Blue Bear rises after the bell and, as Maggie's back is turned, hits her from behind, causing her to fall and hit her head on the overturned corner stool. The tragic incident shatters Maggie's spinal cord, leaving her unconscious for days and dependent on a respirator to live. Frankie holds vigil at the hospital, unable to forgive himself or Scrap for allowing Maggie to fight. Once she regains consciousness, Maggie blames herself for failing to "protect herself" during the fight. Desperate to change the bleak prognosis, Frankie calls dozens of hospitals to try to get medical attention to correct the injury, but there is no hope. As the weeks progress, Maggie's immobility causes skin ulcers, and despite the best care, she is completely paralyzed below the neck. While Frankie arranges for Maggie to be taken to a Los Angeles rehabilitation center and visits her daily, her family does not visit until they have a lawyer to coerce her into signing over all of her assets. Frankie tries to defend Maggie, but she orders him from the room, then lets the pen drop from her mouth and insults her mother for her selfishness until her family leaves the room in humiliation. A short time later, Maggie's leg is amputated because of a gangrenous ulcer, and Frankie talks about getting her a powered wheelchair and entering her in classes at a local college. However, instead of responding to Frankie's enthusiasm, Maggie asks him to do for her what her father once did for Axel, begging him to help her die with the memory of people chanting her name still fresh in her consciousness. Frankie is horrified and refuses, but that night is summoned back to the hospital in the middle of the night because Maggie has bitten through her tongue and nearly bled to death. Maggie continues to bite her tongue, even after repeated attempts to stitch it, until the nurses are forced to sedate her. Visiting Father Horvak, Frankie debates the sin of helping Maggie with this final act, but Horvak advises him to leave her "with God" and tells the emotionally exhausted Frankie that he will be lost forever if he does this thing. Frankie then prepares an injection at the gym, where Scrap, knowing Frankie's plan, tells him that Maggie came to the gym with nothing but a dream, which Frankie helped her fulfill. Late that night, Frankie goes into Maggie's room and, just before he removes the respirator and gives her the fatal injection, reveals the meaning of "Mo Cuishle," my darling, my blood, then kisses Maggie as she peacefully dies. Weeks later, Scrap, who has taken over the gym after Frankie left without a word, finishes a letter to Katie, writing that he thinks she should know the kind of man her father was. In Missouri, Frankie sits in the diner he and Maggie visited and savors a piece of lemon meringue pie.
Dr. Louis Moret
V. J. Foster
Jon D. Schorle Ii
Steven M. Porter
Brian T. Finney
Sunshine Chantal Parkman
Scott M. Anderson
Sandi Armstrong Renfroe
Avid Film Composer
Michael A. Bentt
Michael I. Bilog
Brian K. Bilson
Bradley B. Blasdel
Judith M. Brown
Stephen S. Campanelli
Chapman/leonard Studio Equipment, Inc.
Elisa Ann Conant
Ryan D. Craig
Gerry De Leon
"boxing" Don R. Dinkins
Joseph B. Divitale
Juno J. Ellis
Richard C. Goddard
Jason S. Gondek
Rosine Ace Hatem
Stephen A. Heinrich
Sean M. Higgins
Bill "kauhane" Hoyt
Judie G. Hoyt
Donald A. Kincade
Nicholas Vincent Korda
Mable Lawson Mccrary
Gary A. Lee
Jonathan Lee-ger Fuh
Brian D. Magerkurth
David Leon Mccardle
Robert A. Mcmahan
Alan Robert Murray
Michael A. Muscarella
Carol A. O'connell
Thomas J. O'connell
Joseph G. Pacelli
Quentin A. Pierre
Casey J. Pond
Ferguson Reid M.d.
Gary D. Roach
Albert S. Ruddy
Dominic V. Ruiz
Michael S. Rutgard
T. Daniel Scaringi
John A. Schacht
Ptah S. Shabaf
Karen E. Shaw
Michelle L. Shuffett M.d.
Jack G. Taylor Jr.
Buddy Van Horn
Douglas L. Wall
Merie Weismiller Wallace
James D. Wickman
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actor
Best Adapted Screenplay
For a brief period of time during production, the film's title was changed to Rope Burns. Only the names and logos of the distribution and production companies appear before the action begins; all other credits appear at the end. There are two cast lists at the end, the first lists the three stars, Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, followed by a list of eight additional actors. The cast of character list follows a different order after Freeman's name. As his character, "Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris," Freeman provides a running, voice-over narration for the film, often filling in gaps in the storyline. At the end of the film, it is revealed that his narration has comprised a letter that Scrap is writing to "Katie," the unseen daughter of "Frankie Dunn" (Clint Eastwood). The poem that Frankie recites in the film is "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," by William Butler Yeats.
Although the onscreen credits read "Based upon stories from 'Rope Burns' by F. X. O'Toole," the film closely follows only one story from the collection, the novella Million $$$ Baby. Some aspects of the film were taken from passages in other stories in the collection, most notably "Frozen Water," which provided the basis for the film's subplot about "Danger Barch," a mentally retarded young man who shadow boxes in the Hit Pit, and bully "Shawrelle Berry," who is taught a lesson by Scrap. O'Toole is the nom de plume of Jerry Boyd (1930-2002), a Long Beach, CA-born Irish-American who worked in the Los Angeles boxing world for more than twenty years as a "cut man," like main character Frankie. Boyd gained acclaim in 2000 when his first book, Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner, was published.
According to a August 2, 2002 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Albert S. Ruddy's Ruddy Morgan Organization had just bought the rights to Million $$$ Baby and intended to produce it in association with Morgan Freeman's company, Revelations Entertainment. The news items also stated that Paul Haggis would write the screenplay. Boyd died shortly thereafter, on 2 September 2002.
According to a March 31, 2004 Hollywood Reporter news item, Eastwood came to the project in early 2004, to co-produce the film through his Malpaso Company, in association with Lakeshore Entertainment and Albert S. Ruddy Productions, with distribution through his long-time distributor, Warner Bros., which provided half of the film's financing. The article also stated that the film rights had initially been optioned in 2001 by Haggis, who adapted two of the Rope Burns stories on spec.
Although Freeman and Hilary Swank were then in negotiations to co-star in the film with Eastwood, no mention was made in the article about Revelations Entertainment's participation in the production. The final screen credits state that the film was presented by Warner Bros., in association with Lakeshore Entertainment/A Malpaso/Ruddy Morgan production.
A principal difference between the film and the novella is that the character of Scrap does not appear in the original, although many of the words of his narration were taken from the novella. Additionally, the priest, called Father O'Gorman in the novella, only appeared near the end, when Frankie was considering Maggie's request to help her die. O'Gorman was described in the novella as being Irish and the same age as Frankie, whereas in the film, "Father Horvak" is a somewhat younger man who has had a more than twenty-year relationship with Frankie centering on adversarial, but often humorous theological discussions. However, both the priest in the novella and the film tell Frankie that he cannot help Maggie to die.
The novella expands Frankie's personal history slightly, describing him as an Irishman who moved to the United States as a boy in 1938. The character of Frankie's estranged daughter, alluded to many times in the film, did not exist in the novella. The nickname "Mo Cuishle," which Frankie gives to Maggie and has embroidered on her emerald green satin boxing robe, is a Gaelic endearment meaning "my darling, my blood."
Portions of the film were shot at various locations throughout the Los Angeles area, including downtown, the Venice Beach boardwalk area, Hollywood Boulevard, Eagle Rock and Pasadena. According to the pressbook, the fight sequences were shot at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, and the Ozarks sequences were shot in "wooded areas near Los Angeles."
According to the pressbook and various articles about the film, Hilary Swank trained for months prior to shooting with noted boxing trainer Hector Roca at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, New York. Swank also worked with personal trainer Grant Roberts, gaining more than 20 pounds of bulk and muscle for the production. The pressbook also states that Swank sparred with World Champion female boxer Lucia Rijker, who portrays "Billie 'The Blue Bear'" in the film.
Many of the production crew had worked on Eastwood's previous films, including production designer Henry Bumstead who, at eighty-nine, was acknowledged to be the oldest working art director. Million Dollar Baby was Bumstead's twelfth collaboration with Eastwood.
As noted in numerous newspaper articles, in late January 2005, following the film's national release, controversy erupted over its theme of euthanasia. In a January 31, 2005 New York Times article, Marcie Roth, Executive Director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, was quoted as saying that the film "sends a message that having a spinal cord injury is a fate worse than death." Conservative radio and television talk show hosts also spoke out against the film, as did the Chicago-based activist group Not Dead Yet, which picketed theaters showing the film in the Chicago area.
Some activists criticized the film's advertising, including its trailer, for not indicating that the film contained a central theme about euthanasia. The story's dramatic turn was alluded to, but not mentioned in a majority of reviews, prompting Los Angeles Times media columnist Tim Rutten, who admired the film, to write in early February 2005 "there's a misperception of responsibility and a fundamental mistrust of the readers masquerading as sensitivity. Maybe its time for American film criticism to take off the training wheels." Other media critics defended the decision not to reveal the plot twist of Million Dollar Baby and other films for which advanced knowledge of a sharp turn of events might lessen the story's impact on the audience.
Reviewers were highly laudatory of the film, with Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert calling it a "masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true," and the best film of 2004, and New York Times critic A. O. Scott naming it "the best movie released by a major Hollywood studio this year." In addition to being selected as one of AFI's Top Ten films of the year, Million Dollar Baby was selected as one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review and, according to ads, was included in over 250 top ten lists.
The film received four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Actress (Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman) and was nominated in three other categories, Best Adapted Screenplay (Paul Haggis), Best Film Editing (Joel Cox), Best Actor (Eastwood). Million Dollar Baby also was selected as Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, received the University of Southern California Scripter award for best adapted film and was nominated for a Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the year's best production by the Producers Guild of America.
Eastwood was named the year's Best Director by the Directors Guild of America and received the Golden Globe for Best Director. Swank received the Golden Globe for Best Actress-Drama, and the film received three other nominations: Best Picture-Drama, Best Score (Eastwood) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan). Morgan and Swank received awards in the same respective categories by the Screen Actors Guild, which also nominated the film's cast for best ensemble, and Haggis was nominated by the Writers Guild for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Winner of the 2004 award for Best Actress (Hilary Swank) by the Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC).
Winner of the 2004 award for Best Director by the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA).
Winner of the 2004 award for Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC).
Winner of the 2004 award for Best Film and co-winner of the award for Best Actress (Hilary Swank) by the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC).
Winner of the 2004 award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement (Feature Film) by the Directors Guild of America (DGA).
Winner of the 2004 award for Special Filmmaking Achievement by the National Board of Review (NBR).
Winner of the 2004 awards for Best Film and Best Director by the Seattle Film Critics.
Winner of two 2004 Satellite Awards including Best Actress - Drama (Hilary Swank) and Best Adapted Screenplay by the International Press Academy (IPA).
Winner of two 2004 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards for Best Actress (Hilary Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman).
Limited Release in United States December 15, 2004
Released in United States Winter December 15, 2004
Released in United States on Video July 12, 2005
New York and Los Angels Times named "Rope Burns" as a notable book of the year.
FX Toole is the pseudonym of Jerry Boyd who was a former boxing trainer for over 20 years.
Based on two short stories from the novel "Rope Burns" published by Ecco; September 5, 2000.
Limited Release in United States December 15, 2004
Released in United States Winter December 15, 2004
Released in United States on Video July 12, 2005
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2004 by the American Film Institute (AFI).