Made in 1970, just as he was reaching the end of a three-year exile from boxing, AKA Cassius Clay
is a documentary about Muhammad Ali's life and career. Produced by Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton--who would go on to manage Mike Tyson--it includes reams of Jacobs' vast collection of fight footage, some of it familiar, some quite rare, such as flickery images of his earliest bouts.
The film intersperses an account of Ali's career with good natured, if combative, sections to camera featuring Ali and future Tyson trainer Cus D'Amato, who plays devil's advocate, arguing with the ex-champ that he would never have beaten Joe Louis in his heyday, or (more dubiously) his own protégé Floyd Patterson. Watching footage of his 1967 bout against Cleveland Williams here, it's hard to believe any champion before or since could have beaten Ali at his height.
Ali's familiar story is competently related here (though narrator Richard Kiley has the mildly disconcerting air of a Bond villain): his 1960 Olympic triumph; his defeat of Sonny Liston who was expected to annihilate the young 22-year-old blowhard in 1964; his conversion to the Nation of Islam; and the plainly vindictive decision on the part of the authorities to revise his draft status and call him up for service in Vietnam. Ali refused and faced the possibility of a five-year jail sentence as well as being stripped of his title. The principle pleasure of AKA Cassius Clay is watching Ali in full verbal flow. His maniacal teasing of Liston was a psychological knockout blow. "The man's too ugly to be the world champ. The world champ should be pretty, like me!"
On the DVD: extras comprise scene selections and the original trailer. The reproduction is visually adequate, with the sepia tones of the fight footage holding up well; but the dubbing in places is poor. --David Stubbs
A drama documentary tracing in depth the boxing career of heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, from the early years of growing up in the Deep South to his supreme success in the boxing ring.