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Joe Bonaparte's father wants him to pursue his musical talent; but Joe wants to be a boxer. Persuading near-bankrupt manager Tom Moody to give him a chance, Joe quickly rises in his new profession. When he has second thoughts Moody's girl Lorna uses feminine wiles to keep him boxing. But when tough gangster Eddie Fuseli wants to "buy a piece" of Joe, Lorna herself begins to have second thoughts...for that and other reasons. Is it too late? Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
William Holden was knocked unconscious one day while boxing on the set with James 'Cannonball' Green. He thought the footage of the knockout would be spectacular but director Rouben Mamoulian said it couldn't be used because it didn't look real. Holden recalled that, real or not, his head ached for a week. See more »
In the scene where Eddie Fuseli visits the new office, Lorna is seen sitting on the desk with a half-smoked cigarette although she had no cigarette earlier in the scene. At the beginning of the scene, she was holding a snifter and shot glass. Then Siggie gives her a roll of money. Eddie walks in, Lorna sits on the corner of the desk holding the cash with both hands. 48 seconds later Eddie looks at Lorna, who is holding the money in her left hand and cigarette in her right hand which looks like it must have been lit for at least a minute when compared to the length of Eddie's just lit cigarette. Lorna was not shown getting off the desk and nobody walked over to give her a cigarette or even to light it. A moment later, Eddie and Lorna are standing next to each other and Eddie's cigarette is shorter than Lorna's even though his was lit after or at the same time as Lorna's. See more »
Clifford Odets' play about a musician turned boxer was a natural for Hollywood, which has always loved boxing movies. Perhaps subliminally, Odets was inspired by the Fannie Hurst "Humoresque," first made into a film in 1920. When "Golden Boy" was done in 1938 as a production of the Group Theater, John Garfield hoped to play the role of Joe Bonaparte and was disappointed when the lead went instead to Luther Adler, with Garfield relegated to the role of Siggie. Garfield rectified this in 1952 when he played the lead on Broadway and also had his chance to play a boxer in "Body and Soul" and a violinist in "Humoresque." Tony Curtis is another who did the part of Joe as a young actor before going to Hollywood.
There are two ways of casting this role - the Garfield way - the streetwise fighter who happens to be a gifted violinist, or the reverse
the gentle violinist who just happens to be a gifted fighter. The
latter is more interesting, as the audience is then able to see how the fight world changes an artistic soul.
Columbia took this route and chose 27-year-old Richard Carlson for the role, but he was appearing on Broadway at the time. After testing nearly everyone, the studio put 21-year-old William Holden in the role. His was a new face and a pretty one - he certainly didn't look like a fighter. A part like this for someone who had two uncredited film appearances had to have been like winning Scarlett O'Hara and just as daunting; were it not been for the help and intervention of Barbara Stanwyck, who played Lorna (originally done on stage by Frances Farmer) Holden would have been fired.
The theme of following your heart, so often explored by Eugene O'Neill, is another overriding theme in this story, with the character of Joe Bonaparte torn between his love for playing the violin and the appeal of making money as a fighter and being somebody. Joe comes from an immigrant family who all live together - seen so often in films from the '30s and '40s -- again, "Humoresque" comes to mind. This immediately dates the film and puts it right into its period. The other thing that dates it is the over the top performance of Lee J. Cobb as Joe's dad. Cobb was in the original play on Broadway but as another character; he would repeat his role as the father in the Garfield production. Undoubtedly this characterization worked better on stage and definitely worked better for a '30s audience.
William Holden gives a tender performance as Joe, an artist at heart who falls for his manager's girlfriend. Like Glenn Ford, he had one of those faces that changed so totally that he isn't even recognizable as William Holden in this film - even his voice is different. He's young, beautiful, with an unlined face and a higher voice. His performance opened up light leading man roles for him. It wasn't until 1950 that he had his second breakthrough film, "Sunset Boulevard" - which vaulted him into superstardom. That William Holden was virile, rugged, and handsome. It's an amazing transformation. Stanwyck is perfect as Lorna Moon - tough, sexy, and a marshmallow underneath. Her chemistry with Holden is excellent. He never forgot how much she helped him, and sent her roses each time she started a new film.
"Golden Boy" was turned into a Broadway musical as well - there's something enduring about the story of a man's struggle to find his true destiny. This is as good an example of that struggle as you'll find anywhere.
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