Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: Carl Foreman, Ring Lardner
Starring: Arthur Kennedy, John Daheim, Kirk Douglas, Lola Albright, Luis Van Rooten, Marilyn Maxwell, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman
Directed by Mark Robson
Available on Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment
Michael ‘Midge’ Kelly and his brother Connie find themselves in LA with no money and no work until a chance fight at a local boxing venue offers Midge the opportunity of giving him everything he could desire: money, women, fame, and, most of all, respect. Making his way up the rankings with win after win, Midge gains adulation from boxing fans and the press as he works his way towards a title shot, but when he’s asked to take a dive in a fight against the number one contender, Johnny Dunne, he must decide whether making a career and money is more important to him than proving he is the best.
The rise and fall of a sports star is a compelling drama as any and is the focus in Mark Robson’s film CHAMPION, based on the short story by American sports columnist and author, Ring Lardner. A fictionalised account of a man who rises through the ranks from a life of poverty into a boxing superstar is the kind of underdog story you can easily get behind. However inviting the storyline may be, it doesn’t hide or gloss over who is used or sacrificed in the making of a champion which is where this film grabs the viewer by the lapels.
Kirk Douglas was nominated for his first Oscar for his role as Midge and it’s not hard to see why. He’s mesmerising as the cocky young Midge who never ceases to get his way, with a fiery passion for being the best and a wild addiction to getting what he wants, whatever that may be in that moment. His disabled brother Connie, played by Arthur Kennedy, is quite the opposite. He’s quiet, sensitive and sees how destructive and corrupt the fight game is but no matter his thoughts on Midge’s choices and his career, he can’t help but support his brother. With the aid of boxing manager Tony Haley (fantastically portrayed by Paul Stewart), a veteran of the fight business who not only knows the ins and outs of the industry but is also a brilliant trainer, Midge has every opportunity to make it to the top. In the fight game though, talent isn’t everything and decisions have to be made. The choices Midge has to make will have you questioning what you would do in his shoes as the full extent of Midge’s character is formed before our very eyes.
I’m quite partial to a fight flick so the boxing side of it is what drew me initially to this film though it’s only one side of the coin. The scenes in the ring are entertaining and nail-biting to watch unfold even though the fights do seem a little to turn-based compared to reality. For instance, neither Midge and his opponents seem to know how to cover, bob and weave, and block shots – they only know how to attack. With an opponent conveniently pausing long enough with no guard to speak of, you can easily crack them with a blinding uppercut to send them to the canvas. If this boxing was reality, with their face wide open to strikes, I’d imagine all the boxers would be suffering from CTE in the near future. With Kirk Douglas showing off his incredible fitness and physicality, there’s no doubt he’s right for the role though, effortlessly performing V-sits with the medicine ball, skipping with straight and crossed ropes, using the speed ball and even, at one point, performing a kip up. He has no trouble convincing us he’s championship material, and when he faces his opponents in the ring, you feel every punch Midge gives and receives, the impact transcending the ring and the screen.
A riveting drama unmasking the ups and downs of the fight game and the impact it has on those around them, CHAMPION gives us an insight into what it takes to be the champ and, after all is said and done, is it really worth it in the end?