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3 1/2 stars for a fine early film about boxing
on June 10, 2017
After recently complaining about another boxing movie (“Bleed For This” which isn’t bad) hitting the streets and more on the way, why would I want to watch this old story. Frankly the plot isn’t new but it was for the time. The film has been sitting on my shelf, begging to be watched and then I remembered why I bought it. It stars John Garfield who was nominated for an Oscar. He’s also one of my favorite actors whose career was cut short by McCarthyism and an early death at 39. The film is essentially the life story of boxing champion Barney Ross. When Ross became involved in a heroin scandal, the character became Charley Davis (Garfield).
Davis helped out his father in his store and boxed for fun. When his father was killed in a gangland explosion, Charley decided to make a career out of it, much to his mother’s (Anne Revere) dismay. The film also starred the excellent Lilli Palmer as Peg, Charley’s artist fiancé. Peg supported Charley’s decision to fight, at least until he got caught up in the sport’s dark underbelly, organized crime. Charley’s manager, Quinn (William Conrad) becomes a shill for a mobster named Roberts (Lloyd Gough). Everything is going well until a new, younger up-and-comer works his way up to a title fight with Davis. Roberts and one of his goons are partially responsible for the death of Charley’s best friend, Shorty (Joseph Pevney). That and the memory of an experience years earlier when Charley almost killed a fighter, bring to a head where Charley’s morals and capitalistic opportunities collide.
Frankly the film is a bit tired by today’s standards but was certainly original for its day. Directed by Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) there is no denying the excellent acting and screenplay (Abraham Polonsky). In addition to Garfield and Polonsky’s Oscar nominations, the movie won the Oscar for editing (Francis D. Lyon and Robert Parrish). The film has some ground breaking fight sequences shot by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe. The title references the 1930 Johnny Green song which has been performed by nearly every jazz artist from Coleman Hawkins to the Tony Bennet & Amy Winehouse duet.