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|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Budget||$570,000 or $500,000|
|Box office||$2.5 million|
Champion is a 1949 American film noir drama based on a short story by Ring Lardner. Filmed in black-and-white, 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 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 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. 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, going to live with his mother in Chicago, who is now being nursed by Midge's abandoned wife there.
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 does something fast. 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. Kelly rallies at the end of the fight. 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 Michael "Midge" Kelly
- Marilyn Maxwell as Grace Diamond
- Arthur Kennedy as Connie Kelly
- Paul Stewart as Tommy Haley
- Ruth Roman as Emma Bryce
- Lola Albright as Palmer Harris
- Luis Van Rooten as Jerome "Jerry" Harris
- Harry Shannon as Lew Bryce
- Esther Howard as Midge Kelly's mother
- John Daheim as Johnny Dunne
The film was shot in twenty days.
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 arc 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)
- "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
- Champion at the Internet Movie Database.
- 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.
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