18 May 2003 | bmacv
Curtis, Sterling shine in Joseph Pevney's solid boxing story
No other sport has given rise to as many superior movies as our most barbaric one, prizefighting. Joseph Pevney's Flesh and Fury may fall short of superior, but it's well above average and shows its principal actors in the most flattering light: Tony Curtis does proud in one of his first starring roles, while Jan Sterling contributes possibly her finest performance.
Curtis (in the pouty fulsomeness of his young manhood) boxes for $25 purses when he catches the eye of Sterling, a bloodthirsty and avaricious ringside habitué. The only catch is that Curtis is deaf and dumb, but that suits Sterling just swell - his disability makes him more vulnerable to her control. She pushes his career forward too fast for the liking of his manager (Wallace Ford), but Curtis seems all but unstoppable.
Enter Mona Freeman, reporter from Panorama magazine, to do a feature on the hearing-impaired welterweight. It's her kind of story; her father, a wealthy Long Island architect, was deaf, too, so she learned how to sign - a skill Curtis has let lapse as it calls attention to his shortcoming. But exposed to a world of greater possibilities, Curtis undergoes an operation that restores his hearing.
There's the inevitable canker, however. Curtis' self-assurance in the ring came in part from his obliviousness to the din of the crowd. What's more, the pretentious babble he hears at a party in Freeman's posh mansion convinces him that he has more in common with the strident Sterling than with the privileged Freeman (the William Alland/Bernard Gordon script shows a firm grasp of class frictions). He decides to return to boxing, even though his doctor has warned him that he risks losing his newly regained hearing....
Joesph Pevney remains an overlooked director. He started out as an actor (he debuted in Nocturne as the peripatetic piano player) but soon moved behind the camera, helming a number of offbeat and compulsively watchable movies in and around the noir cycle: Shakedown, Iron Man, Meet Danny Wilson, Female on the Beach, The Midnight Story. In the late '50s, he made the move to television, directing a number of classic series. Not everybody who ended up working for the small screen did so because of mediocrity; some, like Pevney, were in demand because of their solid track record - because of movies like Flesh and Fury.