Two years later Jake LaMotta gets his shot at the middleweight title held by the French-Algerian champion Marcel Cerdan. The fight is scheduled for June 16, 1949 in Briggs Stadium, an open-air arena in Detroit, but the bout has been delayed 24 hours due to rain. Jake is on edge in his suite of rooms at the Book-Cadillac Hotel. Vickie is there. Joey is there. The cornermen are there. Jake is snappy with everyone. He is trying to kill time, and time is trying to kill him in return.
Tommy drops by to wish Jake good luck.
All Jake can think about is the fight.
As Tommy is leaving, he gives Vickie a goodbye kiss. Tommy holds her face in his hands and says “Would you look at that face? What a face. Can you believe that girl? Look at that beauty. Just as beautiful as ever.” Vickie smiles at the compliment. Jake sees what’s going on and seethes.
When Jake meets Cerdan he delivers the goods and forces the champ to quit on his stool after ten. Jake LaMotta is finally middleweight champion of the world.
In the next scene we see the new champ and his brother in Jake’s house messing around with the TV and squabbling about Jake’s weight.
Vickie comes home after running some errands and casually kisses her brother-in-law hello. She goes upstairs, leaving Jake and Joey alone. Jake asks Joey, “Did you [bleep] Vickie?” Joey can’t believe what he’s hearing. “You really let this girl ruin your life,” he says with disgust. “Look at you. You’re killing yourself the way you eat, you fat [bleep]. She really did a job on you. You know how [bleepin’] nuts you are?” Jake asks again, “You [bleep] my wife?” “How could you ask me a question like that? How could you ask me? I’m your brother. You ask me that? Where do you get the balls big enough to ask me that?” Jake says, “Just tell me.” “I’m not gonna answer that. It’s stupid. You’re a sick bastard. You know what you should do? Try a little more [bleepin’] and a little less eatin’. You won’t have troubles upstairs in your bedroom and you won’t take it out on everybody else. Ya understand, ya [bleepin’] wacko? You’re crackin’ up. [Bleepin’] screwball ya.”
Joey storms out of the house.
Jake goes upstairs to confront Vickie. She’s puffing up the comforter on the bed. “Where were ya?” asks Jake. Vickie says she went to the movies. “What did ya see?” “Father of the Bride.” Jake asks Vickie, “What about the Copa,” and gives her a good hard slap. Jake grabs Vickie by her ponytail and slaps her again. “Did you [bleep] my brother?” “Get off me, you fat pig!” “Did you? Did you?” Vickie runs to the bathroom and locks the door. Jake breaks down the door. “Why’d ya do it? Why’d ya do it? Why’d ya do it?” Jake slaps Vickie again.
The middleweight champ goes to his brother’s house. Joey is sitting with his wife and kids in the kitchen when Jake bursts in. “You [bleeped] my wife, huh? You [bleeped] my wife?” Joey’s wife screams as he tries to run away. Jake gets hold of him, grabs him by the throat, and starts punching. Vickie arrives and tries to help Joey. Jake takes her out with a single punch.
Back home, Vickie is packing her bags; she has had enough. Jake arrives and does his sorry act and Vickie falls for it another time. She wants to leave Jake, she knows it’s the right thing to do, but their bond is still too strong, so they stay together, despite her black eye, swollen jaw, cut lip and wounded pride, despite her better judgment.
Jake tells her, perhaps a little too convincingly, “I’m a bum without you and the kids.”
We leave the Bronx and revisit Detroit. It’s September 13, 1950. Jake LaMotta is defending his middleweight title against Laurent Dauthuille. Don Dunphy is ringside: “Less than a minute to go and LaMotta is losing the title that he won from the gallant Marcel Cerdan. After the tragic plane crash that took Cerdan’s life, Laurent Dauthuille vowed to bring the title back to France. And tonight, he only has to last this 15th round to be crowned the new middleweight champion. LaMotta is taking terrible punishment on the ropes as Dauthuille bangs him with lefts and rights to the head. Another left, another right to the jaw – And LaMotta turns around. He’s been playing possum! He’s got Dauthuille hurt! He rips a right hand to the body, two left hooks to the jaw, another left and a right to the head! Dauthuille is reeling around the ring! The tide has turned. No question about it!”
LaMotta lands hard and Dauthuille is out on his feet. He goes down and his head bounces off the ropes, coming to rest on the final strand. The ref picks up the count. “Six … seven. He’ll never make it. Nine … ten! You’re out. It is all over. He is knocked out. And Jake LaMotta, with thirteen seconds left to go in the final round, has made one of the most remarkable comebacks in all boxing history. – Jake LaMotta!”
LaMotta’s victory over Dauthuille was one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history, but there will be no comeback at home. Jake and his brother Joey no longer speak. Vickie gives her husband wide berth. It seems the only place where Jake can really and truly be himself is inside a boxing ring.
It’s February 14, 1951. The place is Chicago. Jake is fighting Sugar Ray Robinson for the sixth and last time – and he’s getting the stuffing beaten out of him. LaMotta is on the ropes, using the ropes to keep him upright. He taunts Robinson – “Come on, Ray. Come on” – and Sugar Ray obliges.
The call from ringside: “Robinson hurting LaMotta. He’s hurting him now. He has LaMotta on Queer Street, holding on. Certainly, that was one of the most damaging evidences of punching that you have seen in recent years.”
“Come on!” LaMotta says to Robinson, waving him on with his hands at his sides. “Come on!”
Joey is watching the fight on TV, sees just what’s going on, and is sick to his stomach.
“Come on! Come on! What are you standing there for? Come on!”
Robinson assaults LaMotta with lefts and rights.
Vickie is sitting ringside and it is more than she can bear. She buries her face in her hands.
“Come on, Ray! Come on!”
Robinson, dramatically lit from behind, lets it all hang out and it’s like the wrath of God let loose on a masochist.
“These are clean, whistling shots. How he can survive them, nobody knows. No man can endure this pummeling!”
Robinson unloads on LaMotta with every weapon in his arsenal … and Jake takes it like a man.
It’s the thirteen round – the so-called “hard-luck round” – and the ref has seen enough and waves it off. Jake loses the fight and his middleweight title, but he proves a point. He stumbles toward Robinson and his cornermen. “Hey, Ray. I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me? You never got me down.”
Robinson laughs and brushes off LaMotta likes he’s out of his friggin’ mind. Jake collapses in the arms of his cornermen.
A dozen bouts later and Jake has had enough of the fight game. He has given up boxing for the good life with Vickie in Miami.
“It's over for me,” Jake tells some reporters joining him by the pool in the back of his home. “Boxing's over for me. I'm through. I'm tired of worryin' about weight all the time. That's all I used to think about was weight, weight, weight. After a while, you know, you realize other things in life. I mean, I'm very grateful. Boxing's been good to me. I've got a nice house. I've got three great kids. I've got a wonderful, beautiful wife. What more could I ask for?”
Jake fulfills a lifelong dream and opens his very own nightclub on Collins Avenue called Jake LaMotta’s. “It's a bar, a package store, everything.” It’s also where Jake plays out his ambitions as an overweight master of ceremonies before a thankless crowd of celebrity gawkers. Men with pompadours and women with cleavage are a little less than amused when Jake tells them, “I haven’t seen so many losers since my last fight at Madison Square Garden.”
After a series of lame jokes as flat as day-old champagne, Jake wobbles off the stage to meet and greet some of his distinguished clientele. He says to State’s Attorney Bronson, half-jokingly, “You shouldn’t be here this week. It’s next week we got the shakedown payment, right?” That’s Jake for you, always the big kibitzer. Then the champ plants a big, wet, sloppy drunken kiss on the bureaucrat’s wife’s cheek – and succeeds in knocking her cocktail onto her lap.
Jake calls for a busboy to clean up the mess.
There’s some trouble with a couple of guests that needs Jake’s attention. Two female patrons claim they’re 21 but have no identification to prove it. No problem. Jake falls back on a hallowed tradition for determining a woman’s true age.
Jake and the broad lock lips.
“Any girl that can kiss like that,” he says with a laugh, “can drink at my joint any time.”
The party atmosphere at the club goes on into the wee small hours of the morning. When Jake finally sees fit to call it a night, he leaves the club and the hot Florida sun burns a hole in his bloodshot eyes. Vickie sits in her Cadillac, with the engine running and her window half-cracked open. Vickie says “I’m leaving you Jake.”
“What else is new?”
“No, this time I mean it. I didn’t wanna tell you until I had everything worked out … I got a lawyer. We're gettin' a divorce. I'm gettin' custody of the kids. I already made up my mind. I'm leavin'. That's it. The kids are gonna be with me. And if you show your face around, I'm gonna call the cops on you, all right?”
Vickie speeds away in a cloud of dust. Jake hitches up his pants and reenters the club.
The next thing we know Jake is being awakened by two detectives from the DA’s office. “C’mon champ,” one of them says. “Wake up. C’mon champ.”
Jake asks what they want and they show him a photo of an innocent-looking schoolgirl with pigtails. “Do you recognize this girl?” Jake shakes his head. Then they show him another photo of the same girl, but this time she’s all dolled up with makeup, jewelry, and a bouffant hairdo.
It’s the 21-year-old from the club.
Jake asks, “Is this the same girl?”
“She says you introduced her to some men.”
“I introduced her to men,” Jake repeats. “I introduce a lotta people to a lotta people.”
“She’s 14,” the detective says.
“She’s how old?”
“Let me ask you something’. You gonna tell me that girl looks 14?”
“We gotta go downtown.”
Jake LaMotta is in big trouble. Introducing a 14-year-old girl to “some men,” even in a place as loose as Miami, is a serious crime. Call it pimping, call it pandering, call it what you will, Jake is facing hard time. He can’t rustle up the ten grand his lawyer says he needs to have the case against him dropped, so they lock the former champ in the Dade County Stockade for a year.
He pounds his fists and forehead against the stone wall of his cell. “I’m not an animal,” Jake cries. “I’m not an animal.”
When Jake emerges from the joint he’s a changed man, but he’s not changed enough to turn to what he doesn’t know, so he resumes his career in showbiz.
In the final scene of Raging Bull we’re right back where we started. Fat old used up Jake LaMotta is sucking on a cigar in his dressing room. The old trouper looks at himself in the mirror, sorta likes what he sees, and recites Budd Schulberg’s immortal words from On the Waterfront (1954), where Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando/Jake LaMotta) confronts his older brother Charley (Rod Steiger/Joey LaMotta) in the backseat of a dark sedan.
“It wasn't him, Charley! It was you. You remember that night in the Garden, you came down to my dressing room and said: ‘Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.’ You remember that? ‘This ain't your night!’ My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ball park – and whadda I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville. You was my brother, Charley. You shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me – just a little bit – so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.”
Charley tells Terry “I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.”
Terry is shot through with regret. “You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let's face it . . . It was you, Charley.”
Then LaMotta throws a left at the figure in the mirror. Then he throws a right. Then he throws a left and a right and another left and another right in quick succession. “I’m the boss,” he says. “I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss.” The Bronx Bull lives. Go Jake go. Knock ‘em dead champ.
Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is a cultural touchstone. It may be the “anti-Rocky,” the dark side of a crimson fairytale, but Raging Bull is a masterpiece, the last word in boxing movies, a dream ménage of subject, object and auteur.
The last thing we see in Raging Bull is a passage from the bible, John IX.24-26. Although intended as a dedication to Haig Manoogian, Scorsese’s film teacher at NYU, who passed away while Raging Bull was in production, it contains a message for LaMotta, and a message for you and for me.
So, for the second time, [the Pharisees]
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
“Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner.”
“Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,”
the man replied.
“All I know is this:
once I was blind and now I can see.”