Tommy McCoy (Mickey Rooney) is a hard working, albeit hot tempered, kid who supports his family by selling newspapers and playing pool while his father Brian (James Dunn) looks for work in the theater. When Brian is approached about performing at a local boxing match, he convinces Tommy to join him. After their performance, Tommy challenges one of the boxers to a fight on the spur of the moment and wins. Lightweight boxing champion Johnny Martin (Mickey Knox) watches the match and is not only impressed by Tommy and Brian’s act, he sees Tommy as a potential boxer.
Johnny hires Brian and Tommy to perform during his shows and while they’re on the road, Johnny takes Tommy under his wing and teaches him all about boxing. When Johnny retires from boxing, Tommy quickly takes Johnny’s place in the boxing world and Brian becomes his manager. But after a while, Johnny decides to make a comeback and his big return to boxing is set to be in a fight against Tommy. Tommy doesn’t want to fight Johnny, but Brian has started drinking and gambling heavily and owes money to notorious gambler Jim Caighn (Brian Donlevy), so Tommy agrees to fight Johnny just for the money. But Johnny is so out of practice that a light punch from Tommy is enough to kill him.
Tommy is devastated by Johnny’s death and wants to quit boxing, but his father has sold Tommy’s contract to Jim Caighn. Jim works out a deal with Tommy where he throws his matches so that Jim can make a lot of money and they share the profits. While training at one of Jim’s houses, Tommy meets Jim’s daughter Sheila (Ann Blyth) and starts dating her, despite Jim’s disapproval. Just before a big fight, Brian gets drunk and tells some of Jim’s rivals that Jim has been fixing Tommy’s fights. In retaliation, they hold Brian and Sheila hostage, threatening to hurt them unless Tommy takes a fall in the last round.
Mickey Rooney movies tend to be pretty hit-or-miss with me, but Killer McCoy was a definite hit. It’s easily one of the best performances of his I’ve ever seen. James Dunn and Brian Donlevy both played very well against Rooney and made for an excellent supporting cast.
Even though I really enjoyed Killer McCoy, it isn’t perfect. After Johnny’s accidental death, Tommy earns the nickname of Killer McCoy, which he eventually starts to adopt for himself. I just didn’t find it believable that a person who was so upset about accidentally killing his friend would ever wear a robe with “Killer McCoy” embroidered on the back of it. The ending felt very forced and was also not very believable. I also felt Ann Blyth was a little underutilized.
But on the whole, Killer McCoy is a pretty enjoyable boxing flick that deserves more recognition than it gets. The cast alone is enough to make it worth seeing at least once.