Champion (1949 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mark Robson|
|Produced by||Stanley Kramer|
|Screenplay by||Carl Foreman|
|Based on||the story "Champion"|
by Ring Lardner
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
|Edited by||Harry W. Gerstad|
Stanley Kramer Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Budget||$570,000 or $500,000 or $595,000|
|Box office||$2.5 million or $2.1 million|
Champion is a 1949 American film noir drama sport film based on a short story by Ring Lardner. It recounts the struggles of boxer "Midge" Kelly fighting his own demons while working to achieve success in the boxing ring. The drama was directed by Mark Robson, with cinematography by Franz Planer. The drama features Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, and Arthur Kennedy.
Several clips from the film were used in Douglas' 1999 film Diamonds to illustrate his character's career as a boxer.
The drama charts the story of Midge Kelly (Kirk Douglas), a boxer who pushes himself to the top of his game by knocking out opponents and back-stabbing his friends. He has no qualms about deceiving the various females he encounters and he eventually double-crosses Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart), the manager who found him and helped pave his road to fame.
Michael "Midge" Kelly and his brother Connie Kelly (Arthur Kennedy) are crossing America by thumb and freight cars from Chicago to California, where they have bought a share in a restaurant. Along the way, they hitch a lift from a car carrying a top boxer, Johnny Dunne, and his girlfriend Grace Diamond (Marilyn Maxwell). They are driven to Kansas City where Dunne is fighting another contender that night.
Midge needs money and is offered a fight on the under-card for $35. After taking a beating, the promoter only pays him $10, claiming the remainder as "management and facility fees". The fight brings him to the attention of fight trainer Tommy Haley, who tells him to come to his gym in Los Angeles if he ever needs a break. Kelly is not interested.
Once they reach Los Angeles, however, they discover they have been conned in the restaurant deal. The brothers need to secure jobs waiting tables and washing dishes. Both strike up a relationship with the owner's daughter, Emma (Ruth Roman). When Midge Kelly is discovered with her, they are forced to marry by her outraged father.
After the shotgun wedding, Kelly abandons his new wife and flees with his brother. They head to the gym run by Haley.
Kelly enters his new field with a single-minded devotion. He defeats a number of local fighters, begins touring the country and is soon ranked as a contender. He is matched with Johnny Dunne, who is in line for a championship fight. Organized crime figures lean on Kelly to throw the match, guaranteeing him a legitimate shot at the title the following year if he complies. Kelly agrees, but then goes back on his word and destroys the complacent Dunne in a single round.
Seeing which way the wind is blowing, Grace Diamond now attaches herself to Kelly. She persuades him to abandon his manager Haley and take on the management of Jerome Harris, an extremely wealthy and influential figure in the fight game with criminal ties. Realizing this is the only way he will get a shot at the title, Kelly agrees. His brother is so disgusted that he walks out. He reconnects with Midge's abandoned wife and convinces her to return to Chicago with him to help care for his aged and ailing mother.
Kelly takes the title and becomes a popular fan favorite because of his rise from humble beginnings. He soon becomes involved with the wife of his new manager, Palmer Harris, a sculptor. She falls in love with him and persuades Kelly to ask her husband for a divorce. Harris refuses and instead offers Kelly a large sum of money if he relinquishes his wife. Kelly agrees, leaving Palmer brokenhearted.
He has been fighting a number of second-rate challengers, but now he has agreed to fight Dunne, who has been making a comeback. Dunne is in good shape and Kelly quickly realizes he is going to lose unless he gets in top shape. He hires back his old manager, and Connie and Emma come back into the camp as well. Connie and Emma are now contemplating marriage, although Emma is still legally married to Midge. As they are breaking camp, Midge rapes Emma, just to show he can.
Kelly fights Dunne in the sporting event of the year. He knocks down the challenger in the first round. Dunne manages to get up and the balance of the fight shifts in his direction. He starts pounding Kelly, pummeling his face. Kelly's manager tries to throw in the towel, but Midge refuses and fights on, taking more punishment. After seeing Grace in the audience, Kelly, now enraged, rallies in the final round and knocks out Dunne. But he is seriously injured and dies in his locker room of a cerebral hemorrhage.
After delivering a favorable, but backhanded, eulogy to a reporter, Connie and Emma walk off into the darkness, now free to move forward with their lives.
- Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly
- Marilyn Maxwell as Grace
- Arthur Kennedy as Connie
- Paul Stewart as Haley
- Ruth Roman as Emma
- Lola Albright as Palmer
- Luis van Rooten as Harris
- Harry Shannon as Lew
- John Daheim as Dunne (as John Day)
- Ralph Sanford as Hammond
- Esther Howard as Mrs. Kelly
Until his death in 2020 at age 103, Kirk Douglas was the last surviving cast member.
When the film was released, Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, believed the drama was not exactly faithful to the original Lardner story, which had a very hard-edge. Still, he gave the boxing drama a positive review, and wrote, "However, Director Mark Robson has covered up story weaknesses with a wealth of pictorial interests and exciting action of a graphic, colorful sort. His scenes in training gymnasiums, managers' offices and, of course, the big fight rings are strongly atmospheric and physically intense. Except that the fighting is more furious than one can credit, it is virtually all right. As the hero and "Champion", Kirk Douglas does a good, aggressive job, with a slight inclination to over-eagerness at times, which might amuse an old fight fan. Arthur Kennedy is dour as his crippled brother who distrusts the slaughterous sport, and Marilyn Maxwell, Ruth Roman and Lola Albright are attractive as the "champ's" various girls. Paul Stewart is most convincing as a quiet, hard-bitten manager. If one hasn't already seen the recently memorable "Body and Soul" which might have served as a model for "Champion", this is a stinging fight film to see. If one has seen that other, this will look a little pale."
The staff at Variety magazine gave the picture a good review and also noted the difference between the screenplay and the original story. They wrote, "Adapted from a Ring Lardner short story of the same title, Champion is a stark, realistic study of the boxing rackets and the degeneracy of a prizefighter. Fight scenes, under Franz Planer's camera, have realism and impact. Unrelenting pace is set by the opening sequence. Cast, under Mark Robson's tight direction, is fine. Kirk Douglas is the boxer and he makes the character live. Second honors go jointly to Arthur Kennedy, the fighter's crippled brother, and Paul Stewart as the knowing manager."
- Academy Award for Film Editing – (Harry W. Gerstad)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Cinematography – (Franz Planer)
- Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures – (Mark Robson)
- Academy Award for Best Actor – (Kirk Douglas)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – (Arthur Kennedy)
- Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female – (Ruth Roman)
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – (Franz Planer)
- Academy Award for Original Music Score – (Dimitri Tiomkin)
- Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – (Carl Foreman)
- WGA for Best Written American Drama – (Carl Foreman)
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2001: AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Michael Kelly: "For the first time in my life, people cheering for me. Were you deaf? Didn't you hear 'em? We're not hitchhiking any more. We're riding." – Nominated
- Champion at the American Film Institute Catalog
- "Star System 'On the Way Out'". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 14 October 1950. p. 8 Supplement: Sunday Magazine. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 47
- Variety December 1948
- "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
- Champion on IMDb.
- THEDA BARA MOVIE GOES TO COLUMBIA: De Sylva's 'The Great Vampire' Will Be Distributed by Studio -- 'Champion' Suit Ruling By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 May 1949: 10.
- "New Pix Help B'way; 'River'-Mooney Fast $72,000, Crosby-Easter Pageant Big 147G, 'Champion' Sockaroo $41,000". Variety. April 13, 1949. p. 9 – via Archive.org.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "Kirk Douglas Plays the Hero in 'Champion,' Film of Ring Lardner's Fight Story", April 11, 1949. Last accessed: December 30, 2007.
- Variety. Film review, April 11, 1949. Last accessed: December 30, 2007.
- Champion at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: November 26, 2009.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (4): 35. Autumn 2016.
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