Max Schmeling remains a controversial figure. As the boxing champion of Germany (and then world champion) during Hitler's reign, there was naturally some tendency on the part of the Third Reich to use Schmeling as a symbol of the Aryan ubermensch. In 1936, Schmeling fought the undefeated Joe Louis. By Nazi standards, Louis was inferior twice over, as an American who was also a Negro. When Schmeling beat Louis by a knockout, there was great glee among Nazis (and Americans who sympathised with the Nazis). In 1938, Joe Louis turned the tables by beating Schmeling with a TKO in a rematch lasting two minutes.
Precisely where were Schmeling's sympathies? He certainly took advantage of his privileged position in Hitler's regime, yet apparently he resented being made the poster boy for Nazism, and reportedly he and Joe Louis respected each other personally. Schmeling enjoyed a long marriage to Austro-Hungarian actress Anny Ondra, who had a successful career in British silent films until the talkies revealed her accent.
'Knockout: A Young Girl, a Young Man' teams Schmeling and Ondra on screen. Interestingly, Schmeling's role is significantly larger and more prominent than Ondra's even though she's a professional actor and he isn't. Max Schmeling plays Max Breuer, a backstage electrician in a Berlin theatre. Ondra plays Marianne Pluemke, an aspiring actress who auditions at the theatre. When a surly burly masher gets fresh with the fraulein, Max intercedes ... leading to fisticuffs, until Max knocks the guy out. It turns out that the masher (Paul Samson-Körner) is Huetgen, a prizefighter. Max gets the sack for his troubles, but a fellow with the peculiar name Smidtchen (good performance by Otto Wernicke) offers to train Max at a boxing school in Hamburg.
SPOILERS COMING. Max comes back to Berlin and fights the British heavyweight champion, Hawkins (played by the very un-British Hans Schönrath). Does Max win the match? Does Max win the fraulein? Jawohl, mein liebchen!
This is Max's show all the way, and fans of Anny Ondra (are there any?) will be disappointed at how little she gets to do. Schmeling displays little talent for dramatics, but fortunately this film is scripted to play to his strong suit. Max throws plenty of punches in this movie, and receives quite a few as well. The climactic boxing match is exciting and well-edited. The scenes at the Hamburg boxing academy have the look of authenticity to me, though I admit I know very little about Hamburg boxing academies. Devotees of boxing, and of German culture in the 1930s (notwithstanding who was in charge) will find this film fascinating. But there's very little here to appeal to other tastes. Purely on the basis of what it set out to accomplish, I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.
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