THE JOE LOUIS STORY is a highly episodic picture that stars credible lookalike Coley Wallace as the fighter from Detroit who held the heavyweight title for 12 years. Cameoing in an early scene is Joe's first trainer, Shorty Linton. Ossie Davis has an uncredited bit part. Archive footage includes bout clips with Primo Carnera, Max Schmeling, Jimmy Braddock, Max Baer and Rocky Marciano.
The film opens with newsman Tad McGeehan (Paul Stewart) writing Joe Louis Barrow's boxing epitaph after his final defeat against contender Marciano. McGeehan's narration throughout keeps the story moving briskly, from Louis as a teen quitting violin lessons for tutoring by Linton, to gym sessions with 'Chappie' Blackburn (James Edwards) and Joe's simultaneous introduction to future wife Marva (Hilda Simms), golf as a pastime and of course the professional ranks, with actual fight clips that favorably show Wallace's resemblance to the soon-to-be champ.
Joe's inexperience becomes evident when Schmeling ends his unbeaten streak. This loss plus the boxer's spendthrift ways cause tension in his marriage. After Louis knocks out Braddock to take the crown in 1937, a reticent Schmeling is forced into a rematch, which Joe wins handily.
Lengthy practice sessions and isolation from Marva precipitates her 1945 divorce action. No mention is made of the actual divorce and their '46 remarriage. During WWII, the enlisted Louis makes promotional appearances and boxes in exhibitions. During these years Chappie passes away.
After the war, Joe's tax problems and ruined finances force a return to the ring and Marva's break from him becomes final. After 18 months of exhibitions, Louis is beaten by Ezzard Charles (not shown) and then is knocked out of the ring by Marciano. The greatest boxer of his age has hung on too long and paid the price, both professionally and personally.
We end with McGeehen's thoughts over a highlight montage and his "good luck, Joe." It's a pity the newspaperman's well-meant wish didn't come true for Louis.