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,
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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