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  • It's criminal that this movie doesn't get the type of attention or respect it deserves. Great White Hope chronicles the life of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, and his bouts with the racism of the 1900s. Before this movie, I never understood where James Earl Jones got his reputation from. Clearly it's from this. He commands all of the scenes he's shot in, demonstrating a mastery of his craft that I've rarely with any other actor. Jones rages and roars through the movie, conveying a mixture of pride and frailty that is simply not to be missed.

    At the risk of being redundant: don't sleep on this movie. It's James Earl Jones at his best.
  • zerogirl426 February 2005
    Before I fully begin, let me make one thing clear: The emphasis in this film is not boxing, but the life of a boxer (Jack Johnson) played by James Earl Jones (Darth Vader).

    In telling the tale of Johnson's life this movie depicts the racial boundaries going on in America in the early 20th century. Unlike many films which tell a tale of racial injustice, this film manages to do it:

    a) Without sugar coating anything. b) Without being over-dramatic.

    I saw it today on television and I didn't know what to expect before it started. I was interested to see it because I've heard references made to it in the past and was curious. I can say for certain that giving this film a chance, and watching it beginning to end, is the best movie-related decision I've made in a long time (at least ten-thousand times better than deciding to rent Resident Evil 2).

    In watching this I got a deep sense of reality. A big reason for this is a simply phenomenal performance by James Earl Jones, as well as solid acting on the part of Jane Alexander and many of the supporting cast members.

    I couldn't believe that IMDb only has 8 reviews of this movie (at least at the time of me writing this), and due to some folks totally missing the point of it, it has a somewhat sad rating.

    SEE this film if you are into compelling stories about interesting people which are well written and acted.

    DON'T see this film if you expect Rocky III.

    There are a lot of good movies out there and I enjoy all manner of cinema, but I can say without a doubt in my mind that The Great White Hope has made it into the realm of my favorites.

    10 out of 10
  • I first saw the play at least 35 years ago when it debuted at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander in the lead roles. Recently, Arena revived the play, and I thought it was dated and a dud. But the film, which has just appeared on PBS, reminded me of the power, not so much of the play which has elements of caricature, but of the acting. Jones and Alexander were both outstanding in the movie, Jones as the black heavyweight champion (Jack Johnson in thin disguise)and Alexander as his white lover. The two of them deserved the stardom that came with these roles when the play moved from the Arena Stage to Broadway. It may not even be the best movie about boxing, but it's worth seeing because of Jones and Alexander. Moreover, the virulent racism directed at Jack Jefferson (Jones's character) and the role of the Federal government in prosecuting him under the Mann act are useful reminders of the way our country was at the beginning of the 20th Century. long ago.
  • Concluding reviewing African-Americans in film in chronological order for Black History Month, we're at the near end of 1970 when James Earl Jones reprises his Tony-winning role as boxer Jack Jefferson in film version of The Great White Hope which got him an Oscar nomination. Since this takes place in the early part of the 20th century, he's not very much liked by the majority white public of America at the time certainly whenever he's seen with his Caucasian female partner Eleanor Backman (Jane Alexander, also Academy nominated). His former girlfriend Clara (Marlene Warfield) certainly resents Eleanor for usurping her power over Jack who has no use for her. Good thing he has his manager Goldie (Lou Gilbert) as well as his trainer Tick (Joel Fluellen) on his side so they all go to Europe where they don't have to worry about jail time. I'll just stop there and just say that the staginess is quite evident in many scenes. Still, both Jones and Ms. Alexander are effective whenever they're together whether intimate or arguing. And Fluellen has his biggest role here and makes the most of it. In addition, it was such a treat, after playing husband-and-wife in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, to see Beah Richards-as Jack's mother-and Roy Glenn-as a pastor at her house-in the same scene again. And seeing Bill Walker-so memorable as Reverend Sykes in To Kill a Mockingbird-playing a deacon in an early scene was also pleasurable to me. One more thing, Hal Holbrook has a memorable turn as an attorney interviewing Ms. Alexander. So on that note, The Great White Hope is highly recommended. Oh, and while this is the official last entry for BHM, there are a few movies I wanted to review in the time alloted that I'm viewing in the next few days (or weeks, depending on my mood) so if you are reading this under my username, watch this space for those reviews...
  • Recently, Ken Burns wrote an editorial calling on Americans to make amends for what they as a society did to Jack Johnson. "The Great White Hope" shows what American society did to him.

    James Earl Jones plays Johnson, called Jack Jefferson here (the movie is fictionalized). He was everything that a black man in the early 20th century was not supposed to be: assertive, proud, and married to a white woman. His wife Eleanor (Jane Alexander) accepted him for who he was. Naturally, white people didn't like their marriage one bit; the black population believed that Johnson was "...gainin' an attraction to the white man's poon tang." Ostracized from society, Jack and Eleanor tried to live privately, but they were constantly hounded. Jack became increasingly abusive towards Eleanor, until she took her own life. Distraught, Jack went in for one last showdown in Cuba.

    Regardless of what you think of the movie overall, it's important because it shows a part of our history that we may never be able to get over, and in fact are still addressing today. Director Martin Ritt espouses the same kind of social awareness that he discussed in "Hud", "Sounder", "Conrack" and "The Front". A masterpiece.
  • As an 18-yr old, I vividly remember when this movie came out and the swirling controversies that accompanied it. Whites were cautious because it openly dealt with not only an interracial love affair but because of the depiction of an unrelenting, proud, but very angry black man. Interestingly enough, with the advent of Black Power/the Revolution and the emergence of the Black Panthers, most black audiences were equally cautious as well and for exactly the same reasons. Also keep in mind I was living in the South then too. Even in 1970, few southern towns would actually show the film.

    This is a variation on the real-life troubles of Jack Johnson, one of boxing's earliest contenders.

    Hands down the most compelling performances are those of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander that leave an indelible imprint on the viewer. Because of the racial fabric of the time, Jack knew he was asking for trouble by openly defying white authority and then compounding that by becoming involved with a white woman. Both undoubtedly knew full well what they would be up against. While they may have deeply loved each other in the beginning, they soon discovered that simply love does not conquer all.

    The movie is also filled with treasures of African-American performances by the likes of Beah Richards, Moses Gunn, Roy Glenn Sr. and Virginia Capers. This alone is worth the price of admission.

    In many instances it is most difficult to watch. Two mesmerizing and thoroughly wrenching scenes were Jane's suicide and when Jack and company were reduced to performing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Europe to survive.

    The film is most certainly uncompromising which was a MAJOR achievement given the social fabric at the time. James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander both deserved Oscars for their performances but that would have been like condoning their whole situation and god KNOWS Hollywood would NEVER have done that.....(sigh) Another example of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

    Nonetheless, this is an eeeeeeeeeexcellent film and most worthy of your movie collection
  • THE GREAT WHITE HOPE is a successful play by Howard Sackler first, premiered in 1967 and both Jones and Alexander won Tony Awards for it. Then this film adaptation sticks with the two leads and is directed by Martin Ritt, whose works are generically significant in requiring dramatic acting predisposition (THE LONG, HOT SUMMER 1958, 6/10; MURPHY'S ROMANCE 1986, 7/10).

    The scenario is about the black boxer Jack Jefferson (Jones), whose real-life archetype is Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915), his up-and-down life orbit and the relationship with his white financé Eleanor (Alexander). And the title signifies his opponents' urgent solicitation for any white boxer who can reclaim the golden belt from him.

    To be expected, the first half is a prolonged battle against the racist's bias inside the US nation, Jack's gregarious and often jokey public image is his weapon to counteract the provincial prejudice, but when he faces his own kinds, he takes umbrage at their equally biased minds, which shows how in-your-face and sapient is Sackler's script, external hostility is disrespectful, to be sure, but it is the internal rift that hurts the most (usually due to jealousy). Fortunately, their unconditional love is the remedy for this part, Jack wins the champion title but soon to be deliberately persecuted by authority figure sand has to sneak away from homeland and go into exile in Europe, with a daring scheme to get away under the police's eyes after receiving his mother's blessing, Jack escapes with Eleanor, his agent Goldie (Gilbert) and loyal trainer Tick (Fluellen).

    The second part of the film is an extensive hubris study, from a national champion to a down-and-out exile, Jack and Eleanor's affinity is under severe strains, from Great Britain, France to Hungary, Jack persistently refuses to go back for a lose-it-all match in exchange of getting his charges revoked, he dismisses Goldie and they relocate in Mexico, it all goes down to Jones and Alexander's heartbreaking bickering scenes which is unsparingly painful to watch, and at the cusp of the tension, a tragedy would unexpectedly ensue, and finally Jack caves in, fights for a match he is doomed to lose. The spectacular performance is the bona-fide highlight of this theatrical piece, both Jones and Alexander are remarkably scintillating and intensely heart-rending, they were worthily Oscar-nominated that year, as her screen debut, Alexander has a borderline leading role but her plaintive mien and inviolable finesse proves that acting is her vocation. Jones, before he would become the universally beloved voice of Darth Vader, clearly goes all out in a hard-earned leading role for a black actor at then, he scopes out both the charisma and the weakness of his character quite remarkably, although physically he doesn't bear a convincing resemblance of a brawny boxer.

    If you are a sport fan and into boxing matches, the film would let you down mercilessly, by modern standard the final showdown is conspicuously fake, all the jabbing and punching are laughably posed, but it would be a different matter for theatrical connoisseurs, for me, I didn't see the ending coming as it is enacted in the film, a nice conceit indeed, he doesn't fake to lose the game, purely he is not that champion any more, he is a man destroyed by this unjust world, a tragedy of his time and a tale of woe resounds profoundly.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    James Earl Jones steps into the metaphorical Hollywood ring playing the first African-American to break the colour barrier as Jack Jefferson (based on real life boxer Jack Johnson). Not only that but he also goes on to become the first African-American to win the World Heavyweight Champion. After winning the Championship, the boxing community was deeply outraged by such events, that Jefferson becomes an instant target of racism as scouts were splurging around looking for their next "White Hope". If that isn't enough, the outrage is turned up another notch in both the white and black community as Jefferson is currently in a relationship with a Caucasian woman Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander). And while Jefferson keeps knocking down all these tough guys to their feet, these detractors use underhanded tactics to finally bring him down.

    Under the direction of Martin Ritt (who directed such classics as "Hud" and "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold"), and based on a play by Howard Sackler (who also wrote two "Jaws" scripts), the movie is one to likely hold one's interest but it doesn't measure up the long-running very successful play. The primary struggle this movie has is the standard clichéd look at the world of boxing during that time period (early 1910's) and the somewhat theatrical performance by James Earl Jones. The story feels too narrow thin and Jones' performance is way too powerful (I'll give him a break it was his first starring role), but the film is very lopsided and awkward in its delivery.

    With that said, Jones gives an amazing performance and the powerful bass voice he possesses will deliver the message across from here to kingdom come. Is it possible that they refrained from a cool cat like Sidney Poitier character to a more loud, eternally defensive character to add more tension for the character and the predominately bigoted Caucasian characters? It also seems interesting that even through trials and tribulations, Jefferson still has a smile on his face, even though his smile is obviously superficial. Jones was excellent in his Oscar nominated role complete as a weighs in a grimaced expression faced with an angering interior.

    Aside from Jones' powerful performance, Jane Alexander was wonderful as she reprises her Broadway performance as the troubled caught-in-the-middle Caucasian love-interest to Jack. We feel her pain as bi-racial relationships was not tolerated in that time period, let alone when this film was released in 1970 for that matter. but her anguish will likely melt your heartstrings in the right place. It's too bad she never rose further in the film industry as other divas in the 1960's and 1970's.

    The film loses its panache once Jefferson is forced to leave the United States for (Cuba?)and issues start to drag on for too long making the movie not intended for cinema. It starts to become formulaic and predictable. But in all fairness "The Great White Hope" set the bar for other boxing movies of this calibre like "The Hurricane" and "Ali". The boxing scenes feel real and authentic, but the issues on racism in movies have been going on for years that it's something I've seen thousands of times. But at the end, the powerful message left me with a lump in my throat. It was that powerful.

    Even though this movie was lopsided and not very setting at times, it still grabs your attention and delivers a very powerful punch. I recommend this movie mostly to the performances and the characters especially from James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander and for the supporting stars as well like Hal Holbrook, Moses Gunn, Robert Webber, Beah Richards and R.G. Armstrong. If you ever have a chance please feel free to watch this movie and feel intrigued by it.
  • Here is a very special film. While not a biography, it is biographical, while essentially about a fighter, it is not a fight film.

    I think the world first saw multiple award winner James Earle Jones as the impoverished father of a baby girl who is bitten by a rat while living in a run down tenement block. This was in the now rare, Emmy award winning TV series "East Side West Side". The series ran one season and also gave us a glimpse of the powerful talents of George C. Scott as the central character.

    The outstanding episode that Jones guest stared in was titled "Who Do You Kill" It was essentially here, in 1963, we were first introduced to the raw potential of this dynamic Afro-American actor. A few years later, Scott and Jones would appear on theatre screens together.

    "The Great White Hope" would have to be one of the best (if not 'the best') film to show the extent of racial intolerance that existed in 1900 American society and particularly in sporting circles. For many, this film will be exhausting to watch, both for the strong situations it examines and the astounding performances of the two main leads.

    It's easy to see why both these performers won Tonys for their roles in the stage play, and Oscar nominations for their film portrayals of the same characters. Matin Ritt, a survivor of the House of Un-American Activities witch-hunt, is absolutely the right Director ('Edge of the City', 'Hud', etc). Just as Burnett Guffey ('Here to Eternity', 'All The Kings Men" etc) is the right Director of Photography. They have created a film that sparkles in all departments. While you don't want it to end ~ you are relieved when it does.

    I'm sure the transfer of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning play to motion picture (both penned by Howard Sackler) must have brought with it greater personal connection for the audience. It's also interesting to note that one of the integral supporting characters (Pop) played by veteran actor Chester Morris - in his last film (befor suiciding while dying of cancer at age 69) also guest stared in an episode of "East Side West Side" shortly after the James Earle Jones Ep. His episode: "The Name of The Game" aired in 1964.

    If you like great drama with a background set in historical fact, be sure you see "The Great White Hope"....Ken Roche.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ********THIS MAY CONTAIN A SPOILER******** ********THIS MAY CONTAIN A SPOILER******** ********THIS MAY CONTAIN A SPOILER******** This film was beautiful and heart-rending. To correct another reviewer, YES, this does have a boxing scene in it. A wonderful one. I actually had to step out when the main character was about to get his first big match, so it may even have two scenes. But really the beauty is in the drama and the almost Shekespearean tragedy. Does the hero triumph in the end? No, but neither do his enemies, for thought they revel in it, it is all of humanity that suffers a loss in this man's defeat.

    I.K. from Scandinavia has posted a review of this film that can only be viewed as blatantly racist. According to this person, "I only wanted to see this movie because of Jane Alexander and Karl-Otto Alberty, both favorites of mine." FINE. Whatever your reasons, yo saw the movie. And you didn't like the movie. Fine as well. Perhaps you don't like this type of movie or perhaps James Earl Jones didn't convince you or any other number of reasonable opinions. But to call this movie a typical boxing movie is completely ignoring the touchy subject matter. It's like you fastforwarded all the talking parts. From the looks of it, all the other movies you've reviewed involve espionage and very white European spies operating during WWII. A keen interest in Hitler as well.

    But you offer no other clue as to why this film had nothing to offer to you, save this telling remark, "although it has some provocative scenes (black man having sex with white woman)." Since when in the past 40 years has this ever been called "provocative" except from ignorant bigots such as yourself? I have petitioned the administrators to remove your racist review and I hope that they will remove this response to it as well, seeing as there will be no need for it. I truly hope your shortsighted views are not indicative of your country of origin (although I doubt it) because you are a terrible representative and a shame to your fellow countrymen.
  • Martin Ritt's engrossing, well-crafted motion picture on the tragic private life of the legendary first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world Jack Johnson, played in a towering larger-than-life Oscar nominated performance for Best Actor by James Earl Jones who recreates his iconic Tony Award winning Broadway role. Johnson was one of the greatest boxers in the history of the ring. In the year 1910 Johnson had to deal with the pure racism in white America that seriously despised him not only because he could easily beat any white boxer, but because of his sexual involvement with a white woman named Eleanor Blackman, brilliantly played by Jane Alexander who earned an Best Actress Oscar nomination for her memorable performance. Johnson even had problems with the black community who felt that he has sold out. Astute direction by Ritt, with solid supporting performances by Robert Webber, R.G Armstrong, Hal Holbrook, Moses Gunn, Marlene Warfield, Oscar Beregi Jr., Larry Pennell, and Scatman Crothers. This exceptional film is a true showcase for the impressive acting skill of the great James Earl Jones who totally commands the screen with a mixture of rage, pride, and human frailty. One of the most rewarding films of the early '70s.
  • James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander were phenomenal in their respective roles. It was a very difficult film to watch because of the racism that was portrayed. It's too bad that Jack Johnson ran into so much racism and difficulty as a fighter because man could he fight. This is a great film and worth the time to see.
  • The title is no misnomer:although the movie tells the story of a black champion,"they " get out of their way to thwart this living "threat " for the white race;as users noticed it ,do not watch it if you expect "rocky": it's its exact contrary ,a failure story.

    James Earl Jones portrays this fighter with a great dignity till the last pictures:he is bullied ,humiliated,persecuted;the best scene is for me that ridiculous performance of "Uncle Tom's cabin" on stage,with Jones and Alexander wearing wigs ,and playing the slave and Evangeline .

    If Jones is not Rocky,Jane Alexander is not Adrian either;first of all ,she is white and well meaning were not prepared to accept it at the time (we are far from "guess who's coming to dine" in which a white bubble head girl is to marry a black future Nobel Prize).Alexander's transformation is extraordinary: a shy elegant lady in the first sequence,then a defiant woman during her "questioning",a partner who accompanies the champion in all his sufferings and humiliations -she is sublime as Eva ,the part of a little girl- and finally a broken human being,living in poverty,beaten by the man she loves in spite of all.

    This is a movie for people with a strong heart ,and Martin Ritt was always an activist director ;I'd tone it a bit : he had always thought that France was the country where there was no racism (see also "Paris blues ,1961):it's wishful thinking.

    That said ,you should not miss this courageous work.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Despite the bad news that I'll relate shortly, this is one heckuva film with bravura performances by James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.

    But first, the bad news. The emphasis here is not on boxing, and as a result there is darned little boxing action. And, I watch a fair bit of boxing on cable, and what boxing there is here is not done very convincingly. However, the emphasis here is on a study of the main characters.

    James Earl Jones plays Jack Jefferson here, representing the real historical figure Jack Johnson. Jane Alexander plays his White mistress. And it is miscegenation that drives the plot here. The story differs from the real life figure in that Jack Johnson was married 3 times, each time to a White woman. In the story, as in real life, it is the miscegenation which leads to the improper use of the Mann Act as a means to derail Jefferson's career. Rather than go to prison (which Johnson eventually did), Jefferson escapes to Europe and then Mexico.

    While this was not Jones' first film, it was the film which propelled him into big-screen stardom. And make no mistake, it is a bravura performance, although a couple of times he seems to be acting as if on stage; however, that does not detract from the film. As is Jane Alexander's performance. It is the strength of these two performances which leads me to assign the film an "8" (were it not for the poor boxing segments, I would have given it a "9"). The film was Jane Alexander's debut in cinema.

    Veteran actor Chester Morris has a role as Pop Weaver. It was Morris' last role; he committed suicide as a result of having stomach cancer. Hal Holbrook has a small role, as does Beah Richards, one of my favorite Black character actresses of the time. Lou Gilbert is the boxing manager and Joel Fluellen plays the trainer; both excellent performances.
  • James Earl Jones has certainly done fine in his career; if he ever feels his talent has been overlooked, I'm sure that, after supplying the voice of Darth Vader and CNN, he's crying all the way to the bank.

    Still, I regret that he hasn't left us a greater body of work on film that is worthy of his talent. Much of his best work has been performed on stage. (For instance, right now he's performing with Cicely Tyson on Broadway in a hit revival of *The Gin Game* -- go see it if you can!)

    But in films? After *The Great White Hope*, you'd think Jones would have been deluged with offers for Oscar-caliber roles in Oscar-caliber films; instead, we saw him (performing admirably) in a series of mediocre films and a short-lived TV series. Like many actors, he was probably glad to be working at all -- a gig's a gig, as they say. But he deserved better. No wonder he seems to prefer the theater.

    So I treasure *The Great White Hope*, not only because it's a great, great movie,but also because it is the single shining gem in the film career of a great actor -- who deserved more recognition from Hollywood than he got.

    (And to be fair to this magnificent film, I must also acknowledge the other actors, all superb.)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'm reminded of the tag line to the 1962 Western film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" - "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

    "The Great White Hope" is a thinly veiled portrayal of the first black world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, who reigned from 1908 to 1915. The 'real' story put to celluloid would have been even more compelling than what was presented here, and I have to wonder why virtually every boxing story about real fighters put to film follows this pattern of poetic license. It was true as far back as 1942's "Gentleman Jim" (about champion Jim Corbett) right up to the modern era's "The Hurricane" (Rubin Carter). An exception might be the 1956 film "Somebody Up There Likes Me"; former champ Rocky Graziano gave the picture thumbs up regarding his life story.

    Apart from the historical aspects though, and treating the picture as a fictional story, the movie is actually quite compelling and provocative. I must say, I never considered James Earl Jones as the athletic type, but he's really sensational as Jack Jefferson. His physique supports the idea that he's a formidable boxer, though not in the same way as Stallone's Rocky who was cut to the crisp in "Rocky III". As Jack's girlfriend Eleanor, Jane Alexander delivers a stunning performance culminating in that Mexican breakup scene that's heart rending in emotional impact. That has to be one of the most intense personal scenes ever put to film, the result of which ends in tragedy that's almost unbearable.

    Even though this is a largely fictional film portrayal, I was still left somewhat frustrated by the lack of historical perspective as to when events were taking place. Reference was made at one point to the onset of World War I, but even then it was referred to as 'the war' which might offer some doubt to the casual viewer. For those interested in the picture's real life counterparts, former champ Brady (Larry Pennell) coming out of retirement represented James J. Jeffries (it didn't happen that way); Cap'n Dan (R.G. Armstrong) is a stand-in for former champ Gentleman Jim Corbett, and Jefferson's final rival in the ring, simply called The Kid, would have been Jess Willard, who actually did take the title away from Jack Johnson in Havana on April 5th, 1915. That fight went twenty six rounds and ended in controversy for many years, furthered by Johnson's signed statement that he threw the match in exchange for fifty thousand dollars (which he never got) and a government promise not to hassle him any more. In reality, the 'Galveston Giant' as he was known, simply ran out of gas and fell to a thunderous right to the jaw.
  • When I was a wee lad of 14 I saw this film and it blew me away. James earl Jones was by and large unknown and he was picked to do the role over Brock Peters who had done the role on Broadway. This was a film (and play) that was vastly ahead of its time as it dealt with an athlete of color (there may have been a film about Jackie Robinson but it didn't have much an impact because I don't remember it and I loved Burt Lancaster as the Native American Jim Thorpe but that rang no more true than Jeff Chandler playing Native Americans) and it dealt with the issue of miscegenation and inter-racial sexual and romantic relationships. Its clear the characters in the film (and play) are composites except for Jack Johnson because Ken Burns' 'Unofrgivable Blackness" of which I have only seen the first installment as of this writing goes into great detail on the dramatic personae of Johnson's stories including the real boxers Johnson fought and the real women he loved.
  • The drama and issues of the Scopes Trial was preserved when the record was used for the play and film Inherit The Wind. The life of the first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson became encapsulated in the play and film The Great White Hope. In both cases the names were changed to protect somebody.

    Actually by changing all the names and scrambling the sequence and combining some characters some dramatic cohesion was gained in the telling of both those stories. In this film for instance Jane Alexander's character is a combination of two of Johnson's four wives, one who committed suicide and another with which he was charged with the Mann Act violation. How could Johnson be charged as such? Very simply, a whole lot of states during the Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson years did not recognize interracial marriage.

    With a shaved head and being quite a bit younger than what were used to seeing now, James Earl Jones makes a perfect Jack Jefferson aka Johnson. That voice is still there with that Darth Vader quality that is unmistakable.

    Only five years of Johnson's story is told, from his match with former champion Larry Pennell as Frank Brady to his defeat at the hands of the Kid played by then current boxing contender Jim Beattie. Johnson met and beat everybody until 1915 when he may or may not have thrown the heavyweight title to Jess Willard, the real life Kid.

    America was quite the racist country in those days, but for some reason the idea of a black heavyweight boxing champion stirred some craziness in some people. Black champions like Joe Gans in the lightweight division and Lampblack Joe Walcott in the welterweight didn't particularly stir up any ire, but Johnson was not a man who played by any rules and mores. His reign as champion coincided with the founding of the NAACP by W.E.B. Dubois and the filming of The Birth Of A Nation and the reception it got. I don't think either was completely coincidental.

    The Great White Hope is not chronologically correct, but you are seeing the real Jack Johnson and his times in this film which author Howard Sackler adapted for the screen. On Broadway James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander got Tony Awards as did the play. The play also won a Pulitzer Prize for Howard Sackler. Both Jones and Alexander got Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Actress, but lost to George C. Scott and Glenda Jackson respectively.

    This film was also the farewell appearance of Chester Morris who had not done a feature film in 14 years. In that time the screen's former Boston Blackie had done a lot of television work and and stage appearances as well. He plays the part of a fight promoter based on the legendary Tex Rickard and he does pretty good in the part. 14 years earlier Morris's previous big screen appearance had been some god awful science fiction film called The Revenge Of The Creature. I'm glad at least he didn't leave the earthly mortal coil with that as an epitaph.

    One other person should get a mention. Johnson married four times, the last three were caucasian. But Marlene Warfield plays his first wife who was a prostitute. She has one scene toward the beginning, but this woman really put some bite into this small role. You will remember her.

    I hope that seeing The Great White Hope might make some check out the life and times of Jack Johnson rated by some boxing historians as the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. In The Great White Hope his legend is preserved albeit under an alias.
  • Great White Hope, The (1970)

    *** (out of 4)

    James Earl Jones plays Jack Jefferson, a black boxer who must battle himself and white racists trying to keep him down. I've been meaning to check this film out for a while now but just now got to it and I think it's somewhat overrated but it's still an entertaining film. Perhaps due to the time it was released, the film beats the viewer over the head with the rebellious Jefferson and most of this comes from his relationship with a white woman (Jane Alexander). I'm going to guess this was an early film in showing a relationship between a black man and white woman but it seems like director Martin Ritt goes to the extremes in trying to say that there's nothing wrong in what's going on. After a while we certainly get the point and after a while it gets tiresome hearing more political talk. Jones is brilliant as the troubled boxer and the supporting cast is also very strong. I've become a big fan of Chester Morris throughout the year and it was great seeing him here in his final role. Hal Holbrook is also here and entertaining.
  • I continue to read comments about how this film is about Jack Johnson. That's not true. It's a story inspired by Jack Johnson, who was much more articulate and sophisticated than Jack JEFFERSON, who is the character James Earl Jones plays. Granted, every obstacle put in his path because of the severe level of blatant racism was true to Johnson's life. However, I just want to point out that the real man, in spite of his era, was a more intelligent and cultured individual than the Jefferson character. In spite of this complaint, the performances in this film are absolutely sublime! It deserves to be seen for the dramatic efforts of each performer, especially James Earl Jones. EXCELLENT acting, but not an accurate representation of the man himself.
  • tieman6431 July 2013
    Warning: Spoilers
    Martin Ritt's "Great White Hope" is loosely based on the public life of famed black heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, who won a series of highly promoted boxing matches during the early 1900s. The film's derived from a Howard Sackler play by the same name.

    Loosely affiliated with communist movements, Ritt spent several years under a Hollywood blacklist. When McCarthyism died down, and directorial reigns were returned to him, Ritt made a series of socially conscious films, most about struggles for equality, or which portrayed the downtrodden (African Americans, Native Indians, society's poor and marginalised) in a sympathetic light. In this regard, "Hope" deals with a black man who finds himself besieged by both a white status quo and black groups which wish he'd dump his white lover and stop pandering to white gaze's.

    "The Great White Hope" is an interesting film, very underrated, but its script is thin and can't accommodate any of the ideas it pretends to be about. Ritt's direction is classy throughout, and the film sports a powerful performance by actor Jams Earl Jones; he plays Johnson as an overwhelming bear of a man.

    Incidentally, "Hope" ends with our hero losing a climactic match. Johnson won this match in real life, but the film's going for a more generalised sense of failure. The real Johnson would die in a car crash after being refused a meal at a "white's only" diner. Today, activists continue to fight for the expungement of Johnson's criminal record (he was arrested on the basis of the racist Mann Act).

    7.9/10 – Thin but underrated.
  • In the early 20th century, boxer James Earl Jones (as Jack Jefferson) fights his main battles outside of the ring. He becomes the first "black" heavyweight champion of the world, but Mr. Jones finds the going gets tough after shacking up with "white" woman Jane Alexander (as Eleanor Backman). Back then, most people did not cotton to race mixing. Eventually, the battle infects Jones' relationship with Ms. Alexander. This film doesn't do justice to Howard Sackler's award-winning play, but it is worthwhile in several respects. Highlights include Irene Sharaff's crisp costumes, the later locations and several notable performances - especially Jones' charismatic and powerful lead.

    ******* The Great White Hope (10/11/70) Martin Ritt ~ James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Chester Morris, Hal Holbrook
  • mwill22216 September 2004
    To call this a boxing movie is to miss the point. There actually isn't a single scene of boxing in the film. The film is about a reluctant "champion;" both a heavyweight champion and a champion for people of color across the country. He only wants to box and make his living, but incredible pressure is put upon him to be something more than "just" a boxer.

    This is an adaptation of Howard Sackler's stage play, based upon the true story of Jack Johnson. James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander starred in the play, and reprise their roles in the film. The film isn't as powerful as the play, but since the play is rarely produced anymore the film is worth seeing.

    Regarding another post about changing the real names, I'm not sure that "Hollywood" is to blame since this film and "Inherit the Wind" were both stage plays before being films--the authors changed the names in the original text. I'm not certain why these choices were made, but I would suggest that perhaps changing the names allows the writer to alter the story slightly--this way one cannot confuse the play/film with history. Just a guess.
  • I saw this movie in 2011. I love boxing history and I love Jack Johnson (Called Jack Jefferson in the movie) who should have a much larger name in boxing than he does. He was big and powerful. I would rank him right up there with the best heavy weights ever including Ali. Perhaps even better and certainly dealt with much much more controversy than Ali ever did.

    This movie may have been OK in it's time.

    First of all it never shows his rise to be the champ and that was perhaps a more amazing story as no white fighter would even fight him to give him a chance at the title.

    James Earl Jones (JEJ)does an amazing job but I don't think he was the right person. They likely just did not have enough candidates. The real Jack Johnson had a much more amiable look to him. He was someone you liked by just looking at him and a natural charm. You can not say that at all about JEJ. JEJ tries to break down his rough persona to appear more like Johnson by sudden flashes of child-like smiles and gestures, that simply were unnatural and for me did not do the job at all. His constant back and forth of his normal serious look and poorly faked charmed simply seemed to flow poorly. He was simply the wrong person and too rough to represent Jack Johnson. Of course physically Jack Johnson was much larger and more muscular than JEJ.

    Then the movie jumps around too fast. When Johnson was beaten in Cuba the fight also was different. It was scheduled for 45 rounds. Johnson won the early rounds but as he was much older and out of shape he eventually ran of gas. In the movie I got the feeling like he left a broken down champion that was beaten but in reality he was old and past his prime. Much like Ali was when he was beaten on his last fight.

    The movie also misrepresented his love affair. He had multiple white lovers over the years and one did not die by suicide as shown in the movie.

    I just could not figure out what the movie was trying to show at the end. He was a great champion or he was not so great?? The portrayal was not done right.

    If you like to really know about him correctly read on Wikipedia or watch a documentary Called 'Unforgivable Blackness' that is a master piece.

    BTW I am not Black or White American. No bias here. I am Persian. But I give credit to Jack Johnson who was simply one the best man I have learned about: as a boxer and as fighter of racism. He had his faults like everyone else of course.
  • This movie is a biography of the first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson. In real life he was as assertive , cunning , loud and fearless, like depicted in the movie. He tried to get resume his boxing career but he had many setbacks. Many of these setbacks dealt with the fact that he was a Black man; in the 1900's the Whites did not want to have a black man as the heavyweight champion , so they tried to find the great "White hope" who would ultimately defeat Johnson and bring back the heavyweight title to the White man. James Earl Jones delivers quite a remarkable performance as Jack Johnson. Overall a very good biography movie.
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