Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Raging Bull (1980)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Title card: La Motta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson Detroit 1943
(Second Fight Scene)
The film cuts abruptly, with a 360 degree swish pan, to the animalistic Jake "the brawler" boxing against the "speedy Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), who is up on his toes - the dancing master." In a series of exhilarating, briefly violent scenes, this bout is the second of their great six-match rivalry. In the 8th round, La Motta, who fights crouched and closed-in with his face and fists forward, decks Robinson and sends him out of the ring. Bright flashbulbs explode with light as the fight turns to slow-motion, taking the film's documentary objectivity into the subjective mind of the fighter. After ten rounds, the fight is awarded to La Motta. He triumphs over the "invincible" Sugar Ray, the first defeat for the boxer. His fighting recaptures his masculinity - the fight scene is followed by a sex scene.

In a passionate bedroom scene, 17 year-old Vickie (two years later) stands in her negligee at the partially-opened doorway of the bedroom (where hangs another religious painting) as Jake lies on the bed:

Vickie: You sure we should be doin' this?
Jake: Come here.
Vickie: You said never to touch ya before a fight.
Jake: (signaling her) Come here, before I give ya a beatin'.
Vickie: You said I couldn't. You've been good for two weeks.
Jake: Come here.

The scene emphasizes Jake's passionate love for her. As she walks toward him in her slinky nightgown, the camera records the lower part of her body, emphasizing her body parts from her breasts to her crotch and rear end.

Following the brutal fight with Robinson, he encourages her to kiss the cuts and bruises on his face: "Touch my boo-boos...Give the boo-boo a kiss - make it better." After bidden to remove his pants and then his boxer shorts, she slyly reminds him: "You made me promise not to get you excited." She removes her panties, raises his undershirt, and continues lovingly kissing the bruises on his stomach. As she moves slowly downward toward his groin, he stops her: "I gotta fight Robinson. I can't fool around." Resisting sex with her to keep his boxing strength, he views her as an obstacle in the way of further victories. He replaces his shorts, kisses her passionately, and walks to the bathroom.

After looking at himself in the mirror, he chooses to make boxing (and its accompanying violence) a higher priority over sexual love. La Motta extinguishes his lust for Vickie (while in training) by pouring ice-cold water over his erection. The icy-blonde emerges behind him and keeps kissing him passionately, driving him crazy. Then, she walks out and lounges on the foot of the bed, moving her legs up and down as she did at the swimming pool.

Title card: La Motta vs. Robinson Detroit 1943
(Third Fight Scene)
In Olympia Stadium, the "classic rivals" fight another re-match only three weeks after their last fight, but this time the ring seems smaller. It is the third bout between the two boxers. Robinson, "well ahead on points" is decked again in the 7th round (only the second time in his career - both times by La Motta). As flashbulbs click and explode, Robinson is dazed in the slow motion footage. After the fight is over, the judges unanimously give the match to Robinson.

In the Olympia Stadium dressing room, Joey is violently furious and breaks a chair against the wall - angry at the unfair decision. Masochistic, Jake sits quietly and watches, musing over his defeat and hinting at his own feelings of guilt and inadequacy:

Joey: They only gave him that f--kin' decision because he's goin' in the Army next week. That's the only reason.
Jake: I knocked him down. I don't know what else I gotta do. I don't know what I gotta do...
Joey: You won and they robbed ya. They're miserable because their mothers take it up the f--kin' ass, that's why.
Jake: I've done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it's comin' back to me. Who knows? I'm a jinx maybe...

When Vickie knocks at the door, Jake refuses to see her and asks Joey to take her home. Left alone in the room, Jake looks at himself in the mirror. The camera remains on a close-up of his left hand, soaking in a bucket of water filled with ice cubes to keep the swelling down.

A series of black and white stills, step-motion and freeze frames of Jake's next six victorious boxing matches (from 1944 to 1947) are accompanied by Mascagni's lyrical musical. The fight images alternate with candid, color "home movies" of Jake's domestic life during the same period - the color footage is faded, scratched, spliced, jumpy, and out of focus. [The dichotomy between unstaged color film and fictional black-and-white film is pronounced. The home movies were based on La Motta's real home movies.] In a similar way, Jake's and Joey's lives are bonded and mirrored to each other - their parallel paths intermingle as they both marry and have children.

Title card: La Motta vs. Zivic Detroit January 14, 1944
A montage of three fight stills from the Zivic fight show La Motta's opponent going down from brutal blows. The home movies are views of Joey, Vickie, and Jake.

Title card: La Motta vs Basora New York August 10, 1945
A montage of two fight stills from the Basora fight record La Motta's victory. Color footage of Jake's and Vickie's marriage before a female Justice of the Peace.

Title card: La Motta vs. Kochan New York September 17, 1945
Alternating step-motion and freeze frames of the Kochan fight - another La Motta victory. Color footage of Jake and Vickie dancing, sparring, pushing and tossing each other into the pool. After hugging and kissing in the pool, Vickie opens up a gift box containing a white turban. She appears in a white sunsuit with the new turban and sunglasses.

Title card: La Motta vs. Edgar Detroit June 12, 1946
Two more stills of a La Motta victory over Edgar. Color footage of Joey and Lenore's (Theresa Saldana) rooftop post-wedding reception (because they couldn't afford a hall).

Title card: La Motta vs. Satterfield Chicago September 12, 1946
A short action still from the Satterfield fight. Color footage of Jake carrying Vickie into their house, and views of Vickie, Lenore, and Joey playing with their children. Jake barbecues, as Vickie ties a "Momma's little helper" apron around him.

Title card: La Motta vs. Bell New York March 14, 1947
A montage of five stills, with Jake victorious.

Title card: PELHAM PARKWAY Bronx, New York 1947
Looking a little overweight in his boxer shorts and tee-shirt in the kitchen of his home, Jake criticizes Joey for arranging a deal to fight Tony Janiro (Kevin Mahon), because he is concerned about losing 13 pounds off his 168 pounds of weight.

Joey: Do you want a title shot?
Jake: What am I - what am I, a circus over here?...What are ya doin'?
Joey: You're killin' yourself for three years now, right? There's nobody left for you to fight. Everybody's afraid to fight you. OK. Along comes this kid Janiro. He don't know any better. He's a young kid, up and coming, he'll fight anybody. Good! You fight him...Let's say you lose because of your weight. Are they gonna think you're not as tough as you are - you're not the same fighter? Good! They'll match you with all those guys that were afraid of matchin' with you before. What happens? You'll kill 'em. And they gotta give you a title shot.

Jake authoritatively orders Vickie to get him coffee, proving his masculine superiority: "How long I gotta wait?" The strategy session with brother/manager Joey continues with an appeal to Jake's independence from the mob:

Joey: Now let's say you win, you beat Janiro. Which is, definitely, you should beat him. Right?...Right?...They still gotta give you a shot at the title. You know why?
Jake: Why?
Joey: Because the same thing as before - there's nobody left. There ain't nobody around. They gotta give you the shot. You understand? If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win. There's no way you can lose. And you do it on your own, just the way you wanted to do, without any help from anybody. Do ya understand? Just get down to 155 pounds - you fat bastard. You stop eatin'!

Vickie's chance remark about Janiro's physical characteristics - that "he's an up and comin' fighter, he's good-lookin', he's popular," arouses Jake's pathological jealousy and anxiety, and he browbeats and nags her. This is the start of his continual suspicion that his wife is cheating on him, and a sign that he is losing control:

Excuse me, excuse me, what do ya mean, 'good-lookin'?...Yeah, but what, who are you to say you are good-lookin' or popular?...What, what are you an authority or what? Get out of here.

After ordering her out with the baby, he asks Joey how Vickie knew Janiro was "good-lookin'": "Where'd she find out he was good-lookin', first of all?" Joey capitalizes on the opportunity and suggests that Jake go to a training camp: "No distractions, no wives, no phone calls, nobody to bother you around." Jake's obsessive curiosity about his wife's attractive qualities makes him suspicious: "When I'm away, you ever notice anything funny going on with her?...I wantcha to keep an eye on her."

Now a marital consultant, Joey warns him not "to start trouble for nothin'. I'm tellin' ya, you're crackin' up." Jake is concerned that "anything's possible," and that she might be playing around with another male because she is: "talkin' about a pretty kid - she says he's good lookin'." Joey has a easy solution: "You make him ugly, what's the difference?" Before going to training, Joey advises Jake to entertain Vickie and take her out. In the living room amidst babies, Jake smothers Vickie with kisses.

In the Copacabana Night Club, an overweight Comedian [La Motta's nightclub career is somewhat patterned after this unfunny comic] introduces Jake La Motta as a "special guest" - "the world's leading middle-weight contender, the Bronx bull, the raging bull." On her way to the bathroom, Vickie's old friend Salvy greets and kisses her and invites her to have a drink with Tommy Como and "some of the old gang." Perceived in slow-motion after watching his wife in the company of other men (male rivals), Jake's attention is focused on Salvy - who walks over and shakes hands (limply) with the stone-faced Jake. After Vickie says hello to Charlie (Tommy's cousin) and Tommy, Salvy describes Jake: "She's with that f--kin' gorilla."

Vickie is challenged and cruelly grilled by Jake's self-destructive jealousy when she gets back to the table. He is enraged in his smoldering, personal fantasies that other men desire her:

Jake: Are you interested in him?
Vickie: No, why would I be interested in him?
Jake: You're sure you're not interested in him?
Vickie: Yeah.
Jake: In other words, you're not interested in him, but you could be interested in somebody?
Vickie: Jake, don't start, huh?
Jake: Hey, shut up, or I'm gonna smack your face.

Finally, Jake is persuaded to speak to Tommy at his table, and the conversation centers on the Janiro fight and Jake's next boxing opponent. Salvy's description of Janiro makes Jake anxious:

Very attractive guy. All the girls like him. No marks. Clean.

When Tommy asks about betting on La Motta in the impending Janiro fight, Jake assures him that he should bet everything. Then, he trades sado-masochistic, sexual barbs with Salvy, giving identical, intermingled, but sexually-confused meanings to the concepts of "fightin'" and "f--kin'." Jake's confusion between his professional and personal worlds is the basic dilemma of his life - his love becomes hate (particularly with his wife Vickie) and his boxing career destroys his home life:

Jake: ...everything, because I'm gonna open his hole like this. Please excuse my French. I'm gonna make him suffer. I'm gonna make his mother wish she never had him - make him into dog meat...He's a nice, a nice kid. He's a pretty kid, too. I mean I don't know, I gotta problem if I should f--k him or fight him. (Laughter erupts)
Tommy: (chuckling) F--k him or fight him.
Salvy: If you're really in love with that f--ker, just watch out.
Jake: By who?
Salvy: Janiro.
Jake: You mean, you want me to get him to f--k you?
Salvy: Me?
Jake: Yeah.
Salvy: No, I don't want him to f--k me.
Jake: I could do that easily.
Salvy: How ya gonna do that?
Jake: Because I'll get yuz both in a ring, I'll give yuz both a f--kin' beatin', ya both can f--k each other.
Salvy: Ah, I'll get all full of blood.
Jake: You're used to that.

That evening, Jake enters the darkened bedroom where Vickie is sleeping. Still confused and harboring unresolved sexual obsessions as he becomes increasingly more psychotic, he wakes her and asks whether she ever thinks of anyone else (other 'pretty-face' males) when they make love - imagining in his own sexual fantasies her sexual interest in other males. He is obsessed with losing her:

You ever think of anyone else when we're in bed?...You know, like when we made love?

Title card: La Motta vs. Janiro New York 1947
(Fourth Fight Scene)
In an abrupt cut to the fight, Jake pummels Janiro with dozens of consecutive blows to the head and face - it is an excruciatingly, exceptionally bloody hailstorm of punches. In a close-up, Janiro's face is pulverized - his nose is re-situated on his face, and blood spurts from his swollen bruises. After the knockout, Jake struts around the ring. In the audience, a telling view of Vickie reveals that she is aware of the reasons for his vengeance. With low masculine self-esteem, Jake has projected his jealous rage onto his opponent. Tommy tells a nearby friend: "He ain't pretty no more."

In a second scene at the Copacabana Night Club, Joey discusses La Motta's possible title shot, and then sees Vickie enter with Salvy and the gang. He takes her away from the table and in the hat check area where she is surrounded by triple mirrors, Vickie tells Joey that she is chafing at the virtual prison Jake has created around her. She's tired of being watched and Jake's paranoia about her is becoming self-fulfilling - he has lost his sexual desire for her and won't have sexual intercourse.

Vickie: I feel like I'm a prisoner. I can't walk, I look at somebody the wrong way I get smacked...I'm tired of havin' to turn around and havin' both of yuz up my ass all the time...I'm twenty years old, I gotta go home and sleep by myself every night?
Joey: What the f--k did you marry him for?
Vickie: 'Cause I love him.
Joey: You do?
Vickie: Yeah, I love him. Well, what am I supposed to do? This guy - he don't even wanna f--k me.
Joey: He's just been a contender too long. He'll be all right as soon as he gets his shot and then everything will be OK...
Vickie: Jake's never gonna be champ. Too many people hate him.

Joey wants to defend Jake's honor and watch over Vickie as he promised while he's away at training camp, but he dares not tell Jake that Salvy took her out. He pulls her away from the table, telling her: "You're makin' an asshole out of my brother." He threatens Salvy: "Mind your f--kin' business and shut up," while the small-time hood keeps insisting: "There's nothin' goin' on over here." In a vicious, prolonged, brawling fight, Joey (who is almost as violent as Jake) smashes a glass in Salvy's face. Outside the club, Joey knocks him over the head with a heavy metal object and slams a cab door into Salvy's body.

During the next day's reconciliation at the Debonair Social Club between Salvy and Joey that is organized by peacemaker Tommy Como, Salvy's boss, the two shake hands with "no grudges." Joey is persuaded to open the door, inadvertently, to a relationship with the mobster to influence Jake's boxing career:

Tommy: Listen to me. Now, Jake - the guy's become an embarrassment. He's embarrassin' me with certain people. And I'm lookin' very bad. I can't deliver a kid from my own god-damned neighborhood. What is it with him? Why does he have to make it so hard on himself, for Christ's sake? He comes to me - I'll make it easier for him. The man's got a head of rock.
Joey: You know, it's hard to explain, Tommy. Jack respects you. I mean, he don't even say hello to anybody. You know, you he talks to, he likes you. It's just that, uh, when he gets somethin' on his mind, you know, he's got a hard head, he likes to do things his own way. I mean, Jesus Christ he'd come off the cross sometimes and he don't give a f--k. He's gonna do what he wants to do. He wants to make it on his own, you know. Thinks he can make it on his own.
Tommy: Make it on his own. He thinks he's gonna walk in there and become champion on his own. Huh?...he's got no respect for nobody. He doesn't listen to nobody...He doesn't respect anybody. Now you do this for me, you understand? You tell him, I don't care how colorful he is or great he is. He could beat all the Sugar Ray Robinsons and the Tony Janiros in the world, but he ain't gonna get a shot at that title - not without us he ain't. Now you're a smart kid, you go to him...

At their meeting at the swimming pool, Jake feels powerless and helpless and suspicious about her infidelity - he is preoccupied with proving that Vickie has been unfaithful. Joey gives his brother options:

Jake: I know she's doin' somethin'. I just wanna catch her once. Just once.
Joey: Hey Jack, you wanna do yourself a favor? Bust her f--kin' hole, throw her out, either that or live with her and let her ruin your life, 'cause that's what's happenin'.

Joey also tells Jake the news that he will have to "throw" the fight with Billy Fox if he wants to get a chance at the title:

He gave you the old good news/bad news routine. The good news is - you're gonna get the shot at the title. And the bad news is - they want ya to do the old flip-flop for 'em.

Just before the fight, Jackie Curtie (Peter Savage), the fight promoter for the Fox/La Motta fight is suspicious why Jake, once the favorite, is now a "twelve-to-five underdog and people are talking," announcing that the "bets are off on this one." But Jake, who has a clean reputation up to this point, asserts: "...I'm gonna win. There's no way I'm goin' down. I don't go down for nobody."

Title card: La Motta vs. Fox New York 1947
(Fifth Fight Scene)
At Madison Square Garden, the match is a sham and Jake is obviously emasculated in the ring. While Jake is still standing and too proud to take a dive, his undefeated opponent Billy Fox (Ed Gregory) wins by TKO. His personal life deteriorating from paranoid sexual jealousy, his defeat in the ring also brings professional disgrace. In the locker room, La Motta sobs and weeps in his handler's arms and is told: "Don't fight anymore. It's a free country. Don't fight anymore." The headlines of the New York Daily News (November 22, 1947) announce: "BOARD SUSPENDS LAMOTTA." Jake says he feels like a "bum": "I take the dive. What more do they want?...They want me to go down too? Well, I ain't goin' down, no, not for nobody!" The purse for the bout has been suspended pending a district attorney's investigation, because Jake obviously took a dive. Joey reminds Jake that Tommy Como won't forget him and that Jake will get his title shot.

Title card: Two Years Later Detroit June 15, 1949
The two boxers, the French middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan and challenger Jake La Motta are staying at the Book-Cadillac Hotel. The fight in Briggs Stadium, an outdoor arena, has been delayed for twenty-four hours due to rain. In the hotel room, Jake paces nervously - he is edgy and irritable. When Joey suggests that Vickie order a cheeseburger from room service, Jake's jealousy surfaces toward his brother's influence over her. After Tommy visits to wish Jake luck, Vickie kisses him goodbye. Jake watches a closeup of a second, slow-motion kiss, in which Tommy holds Vickie's face in his palms, and compliments her on her beauty: "Look at that beauty. Just as beautiful as ever!" Jake is now enraged at Vickie for being "so friendly" with Tommy, and he slaps her:

Jake: You hear what I said. You don't ever have any disrespect for me. You hear what I said?
Vickie: Yeah, I hear.
Jake: All right. Go in there. Come here!
Joey: What don't you stop that, huh?
Jake: (screaming) Shut up!
Joey: Stop it!
Jake: (warning Joey) Shut up! Shut up! I'll f--kin' take care of you later. Shut up! I'm disgusted with the two of yuz.

Perceiving them as a conspiring couple, he takes his jealous, violent anger out against Joey. In the next abruptly-cut scene, he pounds his fists against a padded rubber mat that Joey holds around himself for a sparring warm-up in the locker room. The tension builds as the camera follows Joey and Jake in the long walk through the stadium tunnel to the ring for his fight with Cerdan.

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