Don't let the poster mislead you, "Kid Galahad" isn't a sport movie. See, in a sport movie, the athlete owes his success to his talent, his guts, strength, passion, heart and all the inspirational stuff; but in "Kid Galahad", the managers are the real fighters. In fact, the film follows a simple pattern, easily verifiable: whatever the manager suggests, it works, either to make the opponent lose or win. Take a scene, a good one by the way, where Bogart tells his champ to whisper some words to Robinson's protégé
although the outcome isn't in his favor, you know he got exactly what he wanted. It's just as if the final result only depended on the manager's aims and motivations, no matter how twisted they are.
It seems simplistic but this is how it works in Michael Curtiz' "Kid Galahad", a seemingly Cinderella story about a young bellboy who becomes a boxer after demonstrating the value of his punch during an incident. Galahad is the chivalrous nickname to honor his gallantry and also because his real name Guisenberry (he's called Gooseberry by Robinson) wouldn't even sell free newspapers. In fact, the young boxer, who's too idealistic (euphemism for naive) to be believable, is more a bait for his trainer's personal schemes and the journalists who want some juicy events to print on big headlines
and I thought Mickey in "The Fighter" was passive, although Galahad has an excuse: the film isn't a sport film per se, and it might be inferior to "Rocky" but it's still better than "The Fighter"
"Kid Galahad" isn't a sport film because it's mainly about sport-business, and the rivalry between two businessmen: in one side, Edward G. Robinson as Nick Donati (again, he plays an Italian American in a convincing way, his Italian delivery is molto bene) and in the other, Turkey Morgan, Bogart again as the treacherous villain with a derogatory name. And no matter how thrilling and well-made the boxing matches are, they're never as exciting as watching each of Robinson and Bogie trying to outsmart one another. If sport is a business, business is sport too, with fewer rules naturally
in fact, between Donati and Morgan, it's no holds barred, and let the most tactical win. And going into the depths of their calculations is one of the film's greatest delights.
Yet as much as I enjoyed the movie, I couldn't overlook how dated it was, but nor for the reasons you'd think. It is not dated because of its sappy and predictable romance between 'Goosebbery', the gentle-giant who falls in love with Donati's sister although no signs of mutual attraction are ever showed. It is not dated because the athlete prefers the bland Marie to a young and charismatic Bette Davis playing Fluff, Donati's girlfriend. It is not dated because of the performance of Wayne Morris as Galahad, although he seems to gain more confidence as the film progresses. It is dated for one simple reason: we know that Bogart is the best actor in the film along with Robinson yet he gets the shortest screen time. Curtiz would (thankfully) amend himself by giving him the lead role of "Casablanca".
I bet Curtiz would have blamed himself to have given such an ungrateful role to Bogie, or without giving him the chance to add some substance or redeeming qualities to his character. The fact is, because it's Bogart, we tend to root for him, or at least, to put Donati on an equal level of crookedness, which at one point of the film, shows. And by exploiting the more forgettable figure of the boxer without trying to keep a straight focus on the rivalry between Bogie and Robinson, there is a surely wasted opportunity to give more depth to Bogart's character. The film is never more exciting as in the scenes without the boxing champion. And Bogie is so great in playing strong but sensitive characters, it's painful to watch him as a one-dimensional bad guy.
"Kid Galahad" succeeds in showing how boxing management works, with bookies and journalists as accessories, through the way they are lured into teasing the players' egos, as if the Press itself was only the extension of the ring
that's something not many films, even today, bothered to show and "Kid Galahad" is an eye-opening experience. Take the scene I previously mentioned, when Galahad is told to wear his adversary out without knocking him off, but then Morgan tells his protégé to whisper something about Fluff and he's immediately knocked down, proving that he's ready for a shot at the title, Donati is reluctant but then journalists are used as foils to provoke the match and they play their little game perfectly. The match isn't fixed except the one that goes outside, which ends up being the most important one.
That documentary aspect of the film is really exciting and works like a great slice of American sports' life before the War. It's also one of the first bits of gangster revisionism movies before the iconic "Angels With Dirty Faces"
Robinson and Cagney will switch to other movie genres, while the eternal outsider, Humphrey Bogart, will stay on the crime drama and embody the most prevalent Post-War genre: film noir, letting him reveal this side of his iconic charisma, and just because it was made before "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon" the film is dated, exciting but dated.
It's redeemed by the great performances of the trio Robinson, Bogart and Davis, of the entertaining match games and the magnificent insight on sports business and its intricacies between journalism and money issues, which hasn't changed much. Well, I guess, it's not as dated as it seems. Not a heavyweight masterpiece, but a middle weight little gem.