This sentimental story of an alcoholic and gambling prizefighter and his adoring son was nominated for best picture and won Wallace Beery an Oscar.
Andy Purcell (Beery) known to his son Dink (Jackie Cooper) as the Champ is training for a boxing match; but after a promise not to drink, Dink finds his father drunk. The fight promoters laugh and walk out. The audience experiences the irony of the role reversal, as the boy has to undress and take care of the father when he's been on a binge. After saying he won't gamble, Andy wins a racehorse for Dink. Linda (Irene Rich), who has married the wealthy Tony, discovers that Dink is her son. Tony gives Andy $200 so that Dink can visit his mother. The poor boy steals all the gum, candy, cigarettes, and cigars he can find. Dink says that the Champ is the best guy "in the whole world." Linda tells him that she is his mother. Andy is winning again gambling and will not give Dink to Linda and Tony for six months so that they can send him to school. Tony says that Andy is a bad father. Then Andy loses the money he hoped to gain to pay for Dink's schooling; he signs over the horse, and Dink sees Little Champ being taken away.
Linda gives Andy more money, and he asks Dink if he wants to go to a military school and have to wash his face four times a day. Dink gets his horse back; but Andy is arrested in a brawl after losing the horse again. Andy decides to send Dink to his mother, saying he doesn't like him, as the boy pleads and refuses to go until his father hits him. Although the blow only seemed to hurt his feelings, Andy repeatedly slams his fist into the wall for having sunk to hitting his kid. On the train to New York with his mother, Dink runs away to the Champ. Andy trains for a comeback fight against the Mexican champion, but the doctor warns him about his weak heart. Andy is knocked down three times and is urged to quit by Dink; but he lands a big punch and wins. Dink gets his horse back; but the Champ collapses and dies. Dink wants the Champ but finally goes to his mother.
The powerful feelings between father and son really pull at our hearts; but even the Champ realizes that it will be better for his boy to go to school, as he never did. Andy also knows it would be better if he does not drink and gamble, but he finds no alternative to sliding back into those familiar habits. The irony is that the boy is more responsible than the father; but he has learned street smarts from his father and poor friends and has little appreciation of other values. His mother and Tony live in another social world he does not understand. Yet the love from his heart for his father outweighs everything else and is immensely appealing.