Only seen a TV showing for this, and the print there was poor to average.
You've got your own way of destroying people and I don't want any part of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Champion is directed by Mark Robson and written by Carl Foreman who adapts from the short story written by Ring Lardner. It stars Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman and Lola Albright. Music is by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography by Franz Planer (credited as Frank). Plot finds Douglas as Michael "Midge" Kelly, a man achieving success in the boxing ring whilst struggling to be human outside of it.
You know, there's only two kinds of people in this world: the big and the little.
Slotted into the part of the film universe where boxing film noir resides, Champion is tough in narrative, excellently acted and gripping throughout. Sitting up there with the likes of Body and Soul and The Set-Up, Robson's movie has all the tricks of the trade to make it work. Gritty black and white photography by Planer (Criss Cross); complete with character enveloping shadows, sweaty close ups and fluid filming of the fights, all help to give off the hue of grim realism. The seedy underbelly of the "noble" sport gets a biting telling by the makers, where the oppressive "stink" of the gymnasium's is matched by the "stench" of the machinations of the crime syndicate who pull the strings in dank offices and unleash retribution in dimly lit corridors.
By all accounts Douglas' portrayal of Kelly is considerably lighter in tone than that played out in Lardner's story. Making that a must read since Douglas' Kelly is still thoroughly dislikable. He's a protagonist completely driven by a will to succeed as he forgets to be human around those who care for him. This is a guy who would rather take a buck than a woman who is devoted to him, a man dispensing with the services of friends for financial carrots dangled before him, and as his devoted mother approaches death he is elsewhere. His pursuit of the American dream rendering him ruthless to others whilst his ignorance distracts him from the damage he is doing to himself. He's trapped in a self centred vortex, thinking he's in control when clearly he never is; this marks Midge Kelly out as a classic noir protagonist.
Douglas was nominated for an Academy Award for his committed and riveting performance. It was to be a career turner for the big man, a just reward for turning down better financial offers to play Kelly, he did so because it was a role he felt would really challenge him. Some of his boxing scenes now look a bit ornate, but that is merely a product of how boxing as an art form has progressed. Kennedy turns in fine work as Midge's crippled brother, he's the voice of reason and distrust of the sport, and Stewart is most assured as the tough but very calm manager. The ladies all file in and look lovely and act accordingly to enhance Kelly's descent from stand up guy to selfish uncaring A-Hole. Kennedy, Planer, Tiomkin and Foreman were also nominated by the Academy, while Harry Gerstad won for Film Editing.
With a knock out (hrr hrr hrr) ending to round out the grimy make over for the boxing milieu, Champion is a must see for fans of film noir and melodramatic sports movies. 8/10