Body and Soul isn't the great fight movie - the first half of the movie is often too conventional and formulaic for that - but it's certainly a contender even if it loses the title to The Set-Up. It's certainly one of John Garfield's best roles, finally getting into the ring: the play Golden Boy had been written for him only for the producers to cast him in a supporting role instead, so there's an element of unfinished business here, though Abraham Polonsky's script is much better that Odets' rather patronising fairytale. Where Odets dealt in stereotypes, Polonsky and everyone else on the film treat the supporting characters with dignity and respect: at a time when Stepinfetchit was the image of big screen black America, Canada Lee's performance as the former champ is a revelation - he may not have much screen time, but he's one of the most clued-in characters in the piece, with a dignity and intelligence all but unheard of for a black character in the 40s.
Despite the odd line like "If you wanna fight, fight for something, not for money," it's not an overtly political film, though that didn't stop it being used as evidence of communist subversion in the McCarthy era: few films can have had so many of its cast and crew blacklisted. Indeed, the HUAC must have used the credits as a wishlist - Polonsky, Garfield, Ann Revere, Lloyd Gough, Canada Lee, Art Smith, Shimen Ruskin, producer Bob Roberts and even, albeit to a lesser extent, cinematographer James Wong Howe (who had originally wanted to be a prizefighter and famously shot the bouts on rollerskates to get a more fluid sense of motion) all found themselves either blacklisted or greylisted, while director Robert Rossen only avoided that fate by naming names. Some weren't even communists (although most were members of minority groups). It's actually horrifying to consider just how many people involved in the film, from top to bottom, had their careers ruined or even, in the case of Garfield and Lee, were driven to an early death. In retrospect, the famed great almost-last line "What ya gonna do, kill me? Everybody dies." takes on a particularly bitter resonance.
[Aside from several future blacklist victims, it also boasts three future directors among its credits (Robert Aldrich, Robert Parrish and Nathan Juran) as well as montages from a fourth, Gunther Von Fritsch, whose directorial career never recovered from being fired from Curse of the Cat People].
Second Sight's DVD contains no extras, but is mastered from the BBC's excellent print of the film so boasts a good transfer.