Iron Man (1931)


Tod Browning


Prizefighter Mason loses his opening fight so wife Rose leaves him for Hollywood. Without her around Mason trains and starts winning. Rose comes back and wants Mason to dump his manager Regan and replace him with her secret lover Lewis.

Jean Before Stardom, Lew Struggling On, Robert All Calm

Author: theowinthrop from United States
15 January 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I remember seeing IRON MAN back in the 1960s – it is seldom revived on television these days. It is the typical boxing melodrama, which despite an interesting director (Tod Browning, away from his supernatural or “freaks”)was a mediocre account of the rise and rot of a boxing champ.


The champ here is Lew Ayres, who is not a winner at first (and briefly loses his girlfriend Jean Harlow as a result), but who becomes a champ under the steady tutoring of Robert Armstrong. He does achieve the heavyweight championship, but Harlow returns (now with her boyfriend John Miljan) and convinces Ayres to dump Armstrong for Miljan. And the wheel of fortune begins to descend.

This type of plotting is not unusual. I can think of other films where an honest fighter is betrayed by a gold digging girlfriend and his manager (John Garfield in THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL comes to mind). It is curious to see now not so much for the story (better boxing films have been made since 1931, including one from that year that won an Oscar for best actor – Wallace Beery in THE CHAMP). It’s interesting for looking at the three leads, and where they were going.


Jean Harlow had graduated in the last two years from being an extra in Laurel & Hardy (see DOUBLE WHOOPIE) to acting roles. But her screen persona was still in the air – the film before this was THE PUBLIC ENEMY, where she is an upper class type who is “slumming” with criminal Jimmy Cagney (for only a few scenes). That role did not fit her well. This one is hard to take too, and the dialog sinks it. One can imagine Harlow as gold digging, but she deserves better dialog. Look at her final confrontation scene with John Miljan, and you will be hard pressed not to laugh. But she is in the right social class – distinctly working girl (no joke intended).


Lew Ayres had made a big hit in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT a year before, and deserved more starring parts. But he is hardly the physical type (like Beery or Stallone or De Niro or Jones or even Garfield or Holden or Douglas) to play a convincing boxer. It is a curious to see him playing a boxer – he does give it his all, but one is used to seeing him play professional men (lke Dr. Kildare or the psychiatrist in DARK MIRROR) or semi-wastrel types (like the drunken brother in HOLIDAY). However, his contrition at the conclusion seems real enough.

Robert Armstrong was just finding his place in movies in 1931, as a fast talking type – slightly excitable. His big films (KING KONG, SON OF KONG, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, G-MEN with Jimmy Cagney) come later. There is more restraint and disappointment here for him due to the nature of the script (and his quiet revenge in training a rival to Ayres), but one misses his Carl Denham showing Kong, “the Eighth Wonder of the World”, or trying to help save the gorilla Joe Young. Armstrong needed something unusual to highlight his abilities to generate excitement or summarize tragedy.

As for the fourth lead – John Miljan gave his typical villain – not quite acceptable as Douglas Dumbrille or John Carridine or Lionel Atwill but good enough. Of the four leads his was the best performance.


Putting on Ayres

Author: wes-connors from Los Angeles
13 July 2010

Lightweight boxer Lew Ayres (as “Kid” Mason) loses an important fight by not pacing himself, which irks childhood friend and manager Robert Armstrong (as George Regan). To make matters worse, the young fighter’s sexy show-girl wife Jean Harlow (as Rose) leaves New York for Hollywood. Then, Ayres begins following Mr. Armstrong’s directions, and wins the championship title. Unsuccessful at movie stardom, Ms. Harlow returns to enjoy “Iron Man” Ayres’ newfound wealth and fame.

But, Harlow has a secret lover, John Miljan (as Paul Lewis) helping her gain control over Ayres’ bank account. They plot to get rid of Armstrong, who has a weakness for alcohol to match his fondness for Ayres. Armstrong had Harlow figured as a tramp from the very beginning, but hadn’t the heart to tell his young friend. This is telegraphed to you, “radio drama”-style, with Armstrong’s line, “It’s about time that you knew that she…” Other lines are less obvious.


Director Tod Browning shows little of his flair, but gives old “extra” friend Eddie Dillon (as Jeff) a good amount of screen time.

“Iron Man” is a classic, often re-told, boxing story, with the subtleties of later revisions less buried; for example, the contention that sexual relations drain a boxer’s strength. Also interesting is the age difference between Armstrong and his beer-sharing boyhood “pal”; the casting, while perhaps unintentional, suggests the older man had an unrequited love for his handsome young charge. When he says his final, “Put on that robe, you wanna get pneumonia,” perhaps Armstrong has won Ayres’ love at last.

****** Iron Man (4/30/31) Tod Browning ~ Lew Ayres, Robert Armstrong, Jean Harlow, John Miljan


Put Your Robe On, You Wanna Get Pneumonia

Author: Jay Raskin from Orlando, United States
1 September 2016

For a boxing movie, there really isn’t a lot of boxing in the movie, perhaps ten minutes total. Apparently the original ran 73 minutes and the version I saw on Youtube ran 68 minutes. I suspect the missing five minutes were boxing scenes.

This may be a blessing as Lew Ayres is certainly too handsome and collegiate looking for a boxer. Without muscles, he certainly does not physically resemble any contemporary boxers.


However, the reason to watch this story is not the boxing, but to watch a strong tale of friendship between a coach and an athlete and the selfish, sinful woman who disrupts it.

The acting is terrific. Robert Armstrong had only been starring in movies since 1928 when this was made in 1931, yet this was his 20th starring role. This was two years before his career making performances in “King Kong,” and “Son of Kong,” but it is easy to see why he was chosen for the lead in those movies. He gives a rock solid, believable performance here.


Lew Ayres is a bit uneven at the beginning, but eventually grows into the part. He was 23 years old and only in his fifth starring role, with the first being the classic anti-war film “All Quiet on the Western Front.” It seems that Ayres was trying to develop a tough guy image after the romantic image he portrayed in that first film. My guess is that it was the studio’s decision. It worked with song and dance man James Cagney, but not with Ayres. Still, he’s a great actor and is easy to watch throughout.

I was surprised at how well Jean Harlow did. We should remember that she was only 21 and this was only her fourth starring role. She is quite despicable in the movie, but that was her part. She plays it with intensity and believably. I think reviewers here are criticizing her unfairly, because she doesn’t show much of her comic or sexy siren side here. However, that is not the role. She is a jaded, mean, despicable woman and she plays it straight.

Again, this is a good dramatic piece and those looking for a sports movie or light comedy (although it does have moments of humor) will be disappointed. Those looking for sharp direction from Tod Browning and wonderful performances from three great actors will enjoy the movie.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s