22 June 1999 | Don-102
Blood, Sweat, and Soul in the Grandfather of the Boxing Genre...
If Jake LaMotta, the real life raging bull, ever went to the movies, he must have seen BODY AND SOUL a hundred times. It practically predicts the course of his career and the world of sports cinema, specifically boxing films. Robert Rossen's 1947 black and white boiler is clearly an influence on ROCKY and RAGING BULL, along with countless other rags-to-riches sports stories with a hint of corruption. John Garfield, an actor I feel serves an audience more with his mere screen presence than his acting skills, is stunning as "Charley Davis", the kid from New York who wants a shot at the title.
Notice Garfield's prudent girlfriend. Remind you of Adrian? (ROCKY) How about the mob boss who wants 50 percent of Garfield's winnings? Remind you of Nicholas Colasanto from RAGING BULL? Of course. BODY AND SOUL is the altar of origin from which these films worshiped. Garfield dabbled in boxing off-screen until his untimely death in 1952 and appears like LaMotta, or De Niro, in many scenes. His temper can fly quickly and without warning. CHAMPION with Kirk Douglas and SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME with Paul Newman have taken some licks from this sensational film that roared like most of the best films of the 1940's.
Boxing is the ultimate sport to depict in film because such interesting character studies can come out of them. A boxer is, for the most part, alone. Other sport films seem to suffer because more has to be captured and the sport itself is usually portrayed poorly and unrealistic. Boxing takes place in a small ring, as does the life of most boxers (or so it seems). Director Robert Rossen is also a master at creating pictures where a flawed main character creates his own suffering and pain and has a fundamental misunderstanding of women. Just see Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING'S MEN or Paul Newman in THE HUSTLER.
No fight scene captures your attention until the pivotal final championship defense by "Charley Davis". Will he throw it for the easy bucks or win it for pride and the adulation of his simple New York roots? It is very unapparent and hard to see coming. The authenticity of the climactic fight is made all the more powerful with its newsreel look and in-your-face photography and makeup. Credit cinematographer James Wong Howe for the realistic look and credit the blood and sweat of Garfield, writer Abraham Polonsky, and director Rossen to bring such a captivating story of corruption and glory to the screen.