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Hard hitting early pugilist flick
on September 20, 2003
Interesting that right around the same time--the late 40s--three different films were all released with basically the same theme and plot: The Set-Up (w. Robert Ryan); Champion (w. Kirk Douglas); and Body and Soul (w. John Garfield). Ryan's film is a very good piece of work while the Garfield film is, by today's standards, heavy-handed, thus dated. But the Kirk Douglas film is, in fact, the Champion.
The boxing scenes are realistic--in spite of Douglas' recent nose job, made during filming, preventing any of his sparring partners to hit anywhere near his schnozz. But more than anything else, it's Douglas' tremendous charisma and energy that raise this film above the norm. Douglas, as did Garfield in the earlier Body and Soul, plays a guy mired in poverty who sees boxing as a quick way out of the hole and, once initially successful, wants nothing but more: both money and success. And nothing standing in his way will prevent him from getting what he wants. But while Garfield's portrayal of selfishness is forced and, as well, entrenched in cliched dialogue, both Douglas' acting and the far more intelligent script make Midge Kelly's (Douglas) relentless quest for power tremendously believable.
Arthur Kennedy is Connie, Midge's brother whose leg was busted when he was a kid and now walks with a cane. The three--yep, count 'em, three--women in Midge's life add a lot of juice to the film and a nice touch is the casting of a brunette who's Midge's girl when he's poor and two blondes when he's rich and successful. Back in them days, blondes were IT. (Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield carried on the tradition).
Champion gives you a great view of life in the late 40s as well. It's also interesting that the director, Mark Robson, was part of the Val Lewton school of horror directors (which also included Robert Wise), so makes excellent use with his cinematographer of light and shadow. This is not exactly a film noir, but does have several noirish traits--camera lighting, and thematic corruption and desperation.
This is more a precursor to Raging Bull than Rocky; the latter character is always good, while DeNiro's character is akin to Midge Kelly--rising quickly from a life in the streets to attain fame and fortune, even if toes get stepped on and hearts gets smashed to pieces (Rocky would never do stuff like that).
A strong piece of cinema; recommended.