Sam Strange Remembers: MILLION DOLLAR BABY

The legendary Hollywood producer recalls the time he made Clint Eastwood’s weepy boxing movie.

I had a lot of things on my mind when I made Million Dollar Baby. It’s about boxing, sure, but boiling everything down to just that one element sells the film offensively short. This movie is packed with all kinds of sad shit: aging, euthanasia, racism, lost families… it’s hard to keep track of it all different ways you’re gonna cry your ass off.

On top of that, I insisted the film’s budget be exactly one million dollars, which means the titular baby is the film itself. So when the film ends, a baby dies! Perhaps I could have made it sadder by calling it Million Dollar Puppies, but I feared that would rob its dignity.

The core relationship of Million Dollar Baby rests between Clint Eastwood as Will Munny and Morgan Freeman as Ned Theodore Logan. Both are old boxers with a lot of shared history behind him. They used to be in a gang of drunken boxers that would run around causing problems everywhere. At one point, we find that Munny once punched a drover so hard his teeth went out the back of his head. Logan’s there to nod understandably whenever Ned reassures himself “I ain’t like that no more,” and to tweak Munny’s conscience now and again. He also likes to wax philosophically about Munny’s life when he thinks no one can hear him.

Will Munny needs Ned’s guidance because he’s a total asshole. Time has robbed him of all spark and spirit, and all that’s left is a grumpy old racist. His wife is dead and his daughter won’t talk to him. The only thing he has that’s worth a damn anymore is his pristine muscle car. I forget the make and model.

Things begin to turn around when a small, deeply homosexual boy calling himself The Schofield Kid (“on account of this here gun in my pants”) shows up at Munny’s boxing gym demanding training from the legendary pugilist. Of course, Munny digs into him with gay slur after gay slur, calling him fruity pants, twinkle toes, and faggy face, then branching into more broad territory with nigger, kike, gook, and wetback before finally ending with the declaration: “I don’t train girls.”

But this “girl” simply will not let up. Day after day he appears at the gym, hounding Munny while lightly slapping speedbags and yelling “hi-yaa, you speedbag!” Ned Logan sees the kid’s novelty potential, but also understands that Munny’s reluctance stems not so much from homophobia as it does The Schofield Kid’s resemblance to Munny’s estranged daughter. He tries to make Munny reconsider, but Munny just calls him fruity pants, twinkle toes, and faggy face, then branches into more broad territory with nigger, kike, gook, and wetback before finally ending with the declaration: “I don’t train girls.” He then orders Ned to “Get off my lawn” even though they’re both at a Walgreens buying prune juice.

The story might end here, but several strange things happen. Understanding that raw determination won’t cut the mustard with Munny, The Schofield Kid instead tries to appeal to his antagonism. Late one night, he steals Munny’s prized car and uses it to deliver vigilante justice to various Asian neighborhood gangs. Of course, he gets caught and saved at the last minute when Munny shows up and kills all the Asian gangsters, their grandfathers, and their little brothers. Munny scolds the kid, but can barely hide his approval. “Fine,” he concedes. “Be at the gym 5am sharp. And make sure you don’t have a dick in your mouth when you get there!” The kid is beside himself with enthusiastic joy: “Yes sir! Sure thing, boss!”

So now he’s got to train the kid. It becomes clear early on that—despite his insistence that he already won five matches, including one against a Mexican who came at him with a knife—he does not possess the physicality of a boxer. Before he can get in the ring, he’s got to build some muscles and one very bad ass.

Munny puts him on a strict regiment doing lawn and housework for all his Asian neighbors. See, Munny killed so many of their kids the other night, he single-handedly depleted their male population. Because he’s too old to bed nasty tiger moms himself, he’ll have the kid do it instead. When The Schofield Kid is finally strong enough to avoid getting raped by Margaret Cho’s mother, he’ll be strong enough for the ring.

It only takes six month for The Schofield Kid to transform himself into a halfway decent body. For the six months following that, Munny and Ned work the kid hard, day and night. It’s slow going, though, because he copies their movies perfectly, including their old man speed. As time goes by, a strong father/daughter bond begins to grow between Munny and the kid.

Soon it’s time for the kid’s first match. His opponent is an Irish Catholic named English Bob, known for fighting dirty. The Schofield Kid takes one step towards his guy’s fist and walks away completely paralyzed. “My daughter!” Munny cries. But it’s too late. Munny goes home and punches ALL his cabinets.

So that’s the film’s first ten minutes. At this point, everything changes and it becomes about hospital rooms instead of boxing rings, so all you guys can finally go to the bathroom. Ladies, you may officially begin enjoying your 2nd Clint Eastwood film.

Because every boxer is thoroughly insured, The Schofield Kid’s paralyzation actually sets him up for life financially. This brings his greedy family into the story. He has three dads: a slick police officer (Kevin Bacon), a New Jersey mobster (Sean Penn), and a lumbering basket case (Jason Vorhees). They pretend to care about The Schofield Kid, but they really just want his money. Sean Penn pretends to care quite a bit harder than the others. Pretty much every moment he’s onscreen, he’s crying, sobbing, screaming, spitting, and blubbering. And because he’s a mobster, he’s very eager to prove his pain through vindictive violence. But first: Disneyland.

Munny knows these guys are full of shit. He also knows Sean Penn his dangerous. But he’s got bigger fish to fry. The Schofield Kid’s pridefully refuses to accept a life in a hospital bed, and he repeatedly attempts suicide, once by biting off his tongue, once by blowing air into his IV and once by calling Munny a faggot. This last one works.

So now the Schofield Kid is dead, mercifully euthanized by the only father figure who ever liked him back. When Sean Penn finds out he goes totally off the rails screaming and crying. It takes twenty cops just to hold back his histrionics.

As soon as Sean Penn feels he’s been loud enough to convince people he cares, he begins looking for retribution. While Munny buries his spiritual daughter, Sean Penn abducts Ned Logan, strings him up along a mysterious river, and whips him to death for letting his son get paralyzed.

This is what you’d call the last straw for William Munny. He puts on some nice clothes, goes to confession, drinks whiskey, washes his car, and tapes his hands for one last dance in the ring. First he punches an unarmed Kevin Bacon through the chest. The big retarded dad he lets go. Then he dodges Sean Penn’s bullets long enough to close the distance between them. Lying on the floor, awaiting his fate, Sean Penn mumbles, “I don’t deserve this,” just before Munny shotguns his fist through Penn’s face.

When he turns around, representatives from every racial group he ever slighted await, their hands filled with weapons. Munny goes for his finger gun, and they blow him away. But not before his finger gun takes out, like, sixty fuckin gooks.

In the film’s quiet, respectful epilogue, Munny’s funeral is attended by only one person: his estranged daughter (Marcia Gay Harden). After burying both his body and her anger, she drives off in his car, which he left to her in his will. As the credits slowly roll, we are serenaded by the beautiful song “Gran Torino” written by Clint Eastwood and sung by Rowlf the Dog.

(three) *sniff* (stars)

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