Spirit of Youth (1938) Poster

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Clichéd and low-budget but still rather interesting....
MartinHafer22 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
When this movie begins, a mother is getting her kids ready for their father's return from work. The way she talks to the young boy you just KNOW something awful will happen to the father. And, within seconds, he is carried home by his co-workers. He's been injured and cannot walk! As a result, the young man must become the 'man of the house'--and this young fellow, 'Joe Thomas', grows up to become a boxer who fights to care for his family (Joe Louis). But between his leaving home to make his fortune and his becoming a famous boxer, Lewis has some adventures with his new friend (Mantan Moreland). And, naturally, his pugilistic talents become apparent and what follows is a typical string of clichés--the same ones you'd see in a Hollywood production. You know, the selfish lounge singer who butters up Joe and gets him to break training, the long-suffering girl back home, etc.. This is not so much a complaint--just an observation about the style of film "Spirit of Youth" is.

So is all this worth seeing? After all, this is a black-produced film--and most of them suffer from minuscule budgets and low production values. Some of this is readily apparent--such as the lack of incidental music and some rough acting (such as Louis--whose delivery was a bit wooden...okay, A LOT wooden). However, it helped having Moreland in the film as he was a true professional--and it was as if he did the talking for both of them! It also fortunately featured Clarence Muse--a very familiar face due to his very prolific career and VERY melodious voice. Can they do enough to make this film worth seeing? Well, yes and no. It's not an especially good film but it isn't terrible (not a glowing endorsement, I know). And it REALLY is interesting from a historical point of view--Louis was an amazing champion and this is one of the few films he made during this period--making it a fascinating curio. For retired history teachers like me, this makes it well worth seeing--whether or not this will appeal to you really depends on your tolerance for these types of films.

By the way, take a look at the IMDb trivia. It sure is sad that censors were worried that the film would not play well in the South as Louis beat his white boxing opponents! Well, this is exactly what he did in real life!! So, what's the problem?! Also, this film was made a year after Louis gained the heavyweight title--a crown he kept for a dozen years.
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Mantan Moreland Adds Luster to This Movie!
hhbooker25 May 2002
Greetings & Salutations! While we see the story of the great African-American legend, we are provided really side splitting comedy relief by Mantan Moreland (1902-1973), also an African-American legend in himself. Who can forget Mantan in "Next Time I Marry" (1938), also known as "Trailer Romance," as well as in "Tell No Tales" (1939), or in "There's That Woman Again" (1939). Or in "Irish Luck", also known as "Amateur Detective" in 1939. This years marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mantan Moreland, in Monroe, Louisiana on September 3rd, 1902, perhaps a long awaited star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is due?
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A Joe Louis Production
bkoganbing3 May 2015
With the minimal dialog that Joe Louis is given in a production starring himself you'd hardly believe that he's in Bartlett's Quotations twice. But the man who said 'we're on God's side' and 'he can run but he can't hide' has little to say in Spirit Of Youth. That's because his managers John Roxborough and Julian Black knew that as an actor Joe Louis was a great heavyweight champion.

This film was part of a money making scheme that Roxborough and Black set up for Louis and note in the credits they cut themselves in for a piece of the action as 'technical advisers'. When Spirit Of Youth came out Louis had been heavyweight champion for a year and he was a hot property that his handlers looked to exploit and the black cinema of the time was one way to do it.

Louis plays Joe Thomas, a black sharecropper kid from Alabama who goes north to Detroit as thousands did in those days to get a job and make some real money. He finds he has talent in his fists and works hard to become heavyweight champion. In other words, someone like Joe Louis.

Short lived poverty row studio Grand National picked up the distribution of this film giving it an access to mainstream markets that most black productions didn't have. Spirit Of Youth also had in the cast Clarence Muse and Mantan Moreland who did appear in lots of mainstream films and were familiar to white audiences.

Muse is a character modeled on John Roxborough and Moreland plays his corner man much as Jack Blackburn was in real life. Blackburn however was a former boxer himself so Louis would never have to come to his rescue as he does with Moreland. In scenes with both Muse and Moreland Joe's deficiencies as a thespian are painfully apparent.

As for the plot he's a clean living kid with talents as pugilist who gets led astray by bad girl Mae Turner, but is pulled back on the straight and narrow by Edna Mae Harris.

Joe Louis was a great heavyweight and a great man from the last century, pity he did not a get film to go with it. After his career was over there was a Joe Louis Story film done with Coley Wallace in the lead. In production values not much better than this, but at least an actor was in the lead.

Still it made the money it was supposed to and that was its object. No one here thought they were creating great cinematic art.
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Make It a Double Bill With "The Joe Louis Story"
catherine yronwode3 August 2007
I liked this movie -- which is saying a lot, as i do not generally enjoy boxing or movies about boxing. I bought it because it starred Joe Louis, and i bought "The Joe Louis Story," about his life, at the same time because i wanted to learn who Louis really was. Of the two, "Spirit of Youth" was the one that captured my fancy -- and the one that revealed the most about Joe Louis, the human being. Louis is a very shy and unassuming man, hardly an actor at all, but his grace and charm shine through as he plays the role of a young boxer on the way up. Mantan Moreland, as his sidekick-trainer, is a true professional, carrying Louis the amateur actor over the rough spots in his performance and deftly giving way for Louis the boxer to do his stuff AS a boxer when the plot calls for action. Make it an evening and watch "Spirit of Youth" as a double bill with the much slicker but less charming "Joe Louis Story." Then come back here and tell us which one *you* liked best. I'm betting it will be "Spirit of Youth," by a knockout, in the fifth round.
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Joe you can make your people proud of you
sol121812 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Spirit of Youth" with World Heavyweight Champ Joe Louis in it playing the title role of boxing sensation Joe Thomas is more of a true story about the early life of the famed Brown Bomber then just another 1930's run of the mill boxing flick. Joe taking over the care of his family in Birmingham Alabama when his dad Jeff was permanently injured, in a work-related accident, goes north to Detroit to find work and send whatever money he can back to his mom and kid sister.

Making friends with Crickie who get's Joe fired from more jobs then he gets him hired to with Joe, again getting canned, one day at a warehouse job when he lays out the foreman after he punches the wise cracking and unruly Crickie out. Being unable to get or hold a study job Joe's just about had it in the big city and is ready to take the first train back home when fate, in the person of the semi-conscious Chrickie, intervenes.

Seeing the dynamite right hand that Joe has Crickie gets the bright idea that Joe should enter the ring as a professional boxer. Crickie getting his friend fight manager Frankie Washburn to get Joe into shape and then into some boxing matches. The rest is a no brainier for the quick punching and hard hitting Joe Thomas, The Dark Destoryer, who with his sudden and devastating one two punch combination moves his way up the ranks. Joe knocks out all of his opponents with a match scheduled against top heavyweight contender Chris Baldwin with the winner meeting the heavyweight champ of the world Jack Stanley.

With success going to Joe's head he soon falls in with the wrong crowd spending most of his free time at the Bluebird Café instead of getting the much needed rest that he needs to stay razor sharp and in tip top shape as a top champion caliber boxer. The owner of the Bluebird Duke Emerald had won a bundle of money betting on Joe but now get's his star attraction at the club singer Flora Baily to get Joe to party with her and friends, night in and night out. This in an effort to get Joe out in shape to beat Baldwin in his next fight with Duke planning to bet on Joe in that fight but this time to lose not win.

Out of shape with his punches lacking the explosive power that they had in the past Joe is knocked out by Baldwin losing in the ring for the first time in his professional boxing career. Joe trying to get over his loss to Baldwin gets a second shock when his girl Mary leaves him because of him spending all of his time with Nora. Joe at the same time has a reality check when he's later having lunch at a bar with Frankie and sees one of Frankie's former boxers broken down Tommy Bright grubbing Tommy for money to have a drink. Tommy is so brain damaged that doesn't even recognizing Joe, a top boxing contender for the heavyweight championship, at all! Tommy is so drunk both from the punches he took in the ring and alcohol that he gulped down out of it that it made Joe, by noticing all of this, becomes determined not to end up like Tommy did by being a party animal instead of a dedicated and disciplined professional boxer.

Somewhat corny and predictable ending with Joe getting a second chance to fight the champ Jack Stanley and losing badly in the early and middle rounds. It's not until his girl Mary, with the help of both Crickie and the now reformed and repentant Nora, gets to the boxing arena just in time for Joe, who's just about out on his feet from the pounding he's been taking, to see her at his side and smile at him. That charges him up with Joe coming back from certain defeat and clobbering Stanley with the old one two, and right left, wining the fight and the world heavyweight championship.

Joe Louis played boxer Joe Thomas with that same humble shyness and lack of arrogance and bravado on the screen like he was in real life that in the end made him a true to life American hero, not a made in Hollywood one. It's those qualities which earned Joe Louis the love and respect of millions of boxing and sports fans, as well as those that don't follow sports or boxing, not only in the USA but from all over the world.
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Entertaining Film
Michael_Elliott27 February 2017
Spirit of Youth (1938)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Boxing legend Joe Louis plays a boxer named Joe Thomas in this film, which was clearly meant to be a biography.

SPIRIT OF YOUTH is like a lot of the race pictures from this era. It's got an extremely low-budget and this here causes there to be countless technical issues with the film. At times it's poorly shot and there's no doubt that they were working with very little money as the entire film has a rather rushed and cheap feel to it.

With that said, this here is certainly an entertaining movie on a number of levels with the biggest being the fact that you get to see Louis during his prime. If you're expecting a good performance from him then you'll be disappointed because he's actually rather bad as an actor. He's usually just given one line at most and the reading is downright horrible but I don't think too many people will be that harsh on him. After all, the fun is just getting to see the man himself in the role.

The supporting cast includes a nice performance by Clarence Muse as well as a good supporting bit for Mantan Moreland who pretty much plays the sidekick. Several of the supporting performances are hit and miss but there's nothing here so bad that it's going to take away any entertainment value from the film itself.

As I said, SPIRIT OF YOUTH isn't that pretty to look at but it's a fun film and it's at least nice to see Louis.
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"I want to get ahead. I want to be somebody."
classicsoncall20 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The film, coming out about a year after Joe Louis became World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, was obviously made to cash in on the boxer's popularity and rise to the top of the sports world. The story somewhat parallels Louis's own career, but with the passage of time one must recognize that having the champ play himself might not have been the best idea. Louis is entirely one dimensional in the role and conveys no ability to act at all. Even his boxing scenes aren't very exciting to watch, and I guess the best compliment one might offer is that he had an outstanding physique and was built solid as a rock.

The inclusion of a couple of black actors of the era does help the overall story. Clarence Muse was a well regarded character actor who generally appeared in roles that portrayed blacks in a positive fashion. Mantan Moreland, who I always enjoy seeing, usually appeared as a comic relief character in films, but in this one he plays it pretty straight. Louis's ability to deliver a knock out blow was recognized early when he decked a guy defending Moreland's character. It wouldn't be long before newspaper headlines would be proclaiming him the 'Dark Destroyer'.

Apart from the main story, most of the actual entertainment is provided by song and dance numbers performed by a variety of participants. A scene with a host of jitterbug dancers was quite lively, and a night club segment offering a bevy of chorus singers was quite well done.

In 1953 a movie came out titled "The Joe Louis Story" starring Coley Wallace as the champion boxer, though in many respects Wallace's acting style very much resembled Louis himself in this one. One would be hard pressed to determine which of the on screen performers were more wooden. Personally I'd be interested in seeing a modern day film treatment of Louis if done right; a 2002 TV movie called "Joe and Max" offered a story about the colorful rivalry between Louis and German boxer Max Schmeling. It's a watchable story but rather narrow in scope, as it doesn't offer a broader perspective of Louis's life and career.
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Joe Louis worked much better in the real-life ring
guisreis5 January 2015
Unfortunately, this is a bad boxing movie. The only interesting thing is that Joe Louis himself plays the leading role, a black boxer from rural Alabama named Joe Thomas, whose story is based in his own real life. Though, I cannot help but add that Joe Louis was an awful actor. The single interesting scene in the whole film is the musical and dancing one, in which Joe just watches, and that is 100% unnecessary to the story. Even the boxing fights are terribly performed; they do not look real. Being old is not an excuse, as nice "The champ" was released seven years before and excellent "Amazing Jim" would be released just four years afterwards. It is quite disappointing start watching something you expect to be special and, a few minutes later, you're already waiting impatiently for its end.
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One of the best films made to cash in on the fame of a sports star
dbborroughs24 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Joe Louis stars in the story of a young man who has to leave home in order to make a living to support his family. He eventually ends up in the fight game with Mantan Moreland as a friend. It's the typical story of a down home sort of guy getting mixed up with fast people from the big city who take advantage of him. As both a film made entirely to cash in the fame of the champ and as a small scale movie this is pretty good. To be certain it's full of clichés and musical numbers (no he doesn't sing), but you really don't mind. Louis is surprisingly good, certainly he's better than other sports stars of the era, such a Babe Ruth, who weren't very good. Worth a look if you're at all interested
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