Monday, July 14, 2014

Champion (1949)

ChampionInteresting 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.

Kirk Douglas as the classic greek tragic figure: a hero with a fatal flaw.

Arthur Kennedy and Kirk Douglas play down-on-their-luck brothers (Connie and Midge Kelly, respectively) travelling west to take possession of their part ownership of a restaurant. When they arrive they discover that they had been scammed. Along the way out to the restaurant, Midge made a little money at a boxing exhibition where he caught the eye of a promotor. Midge and Connie work for a while at the restaurant, but Midge's single-minded pursuit of a better life and the respect he feels he deserves causes him to abandon his newly minted wife and head out to seek his fortune in the boxing ring. Midge is a single-minded character like none you've ever seen. This single-mindedness drags him down, extinguishing his humanity as he climbs his way upward. As with most tragic heroes, he finally sacrifices himself when he allows his misdeeds to finally engulf him.

Kirk is fabulous. The fight scenes are convincing and well filmed. The story hops along. This movie represents Arthur Kennedy's most accessible performance as the humane, crippled brother representing the greek chorus reminding the main character of his morality. This is an excellent movie.

Buy Champion (1949) Now

Kirk Douglas plays an emotionally bankrupt man driven by poverty and anger to become a champion prizefighter. His energy and confidence attract love and loyalty from people who contribute to his success but become hurt and disillusioned by his ingratitude and betrayal. The plot is fairly simple, but the film holds interest through its portrayal of a man devoid of self-understanding, whose ambition can never truly be satisfied despite his apparent success. The most intense scenes are in the boxing ring, where no amount of punishment can stop him.

Read Best Reviews of Champion (1949) Here

4.5 stars. I heard so much about this film for so long, so I finally sat down and watched it. At first I didn't think I was going to like it, because the lighting bothered me. But as the film progressed, the lighting fit. Douglas plays an ambitious boxer in the 1940s who like most celebrities get caught up and those around him are the first to get burned. I agree with the assessment that this film is like a Greek tragedy. i kept wanting for Kelly to snap out of it, but alas...

This movie a classic for a reason and if you haven't seen it, you need to do yourself a favor and check it out.

Want Champion (1949) Discount?

Kirk Douglas was marvelous in creating a signature role in his portrayal of boxer and eventual champion Midge Kelly in the hard hitting, gritty 1949 flick "Champion". Based on a story by the revered author Ring Lardner, the movie chronicles the rise and inevitable fall of Kelly.

Hitchhiking to the west coast with his crippled brother Connie played poignantly by Arthur Kennedy, Douglas gets briefly introduced to the world of boxing but rejects it. The brothers are headed to California to take over a diner in which they purchased a share. Realizing they'd been swindled by the rightful owner Lew Bryce played by Harry Shannon when they arrive there, they take a job in the place.

Douglas and Shannon's daughter Emma played by Ruth Roman fall in love, but a hastily arranged shotgun wedding spoils things and Douglas runs out. He seeks out boxing trainer Tommy Haley played by Paul Stewart who he'd met previously. Stewart takes Douglas under his wing and under his tutelage and supported by his brother Douglas becomes a seasoned and tough boxing contender.

Unable to get a deserved title shot he dumps his trainer and signs on with a high rolling and connected trainer Jerry Harris after being seduced by bad girl Grace Diamond played by platinum tressed Marilyn Maxwell.

Douglas commences to foresake all those who care for him as he climbs his way to the top eschewing his brother, manager, mother and estranged but still caring wife. His whole personna becomes altered to mimic the beast he becomes inside the ring. He begins to see the error of his ways on the eve of an important title fight, bringing his closest allies back into his life. The seeds of tragedy have already been planted however and Douglas faces an ignoble future.

Mark Robson crafts this flick like a Shakespearean tragedy and Douglas demonstrates great skill playing the doomed and destructive pugilist. This fine flick won an Oscar for film editing and well deserved nominations for both Douglas and Kennedy.

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