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Midge Kelly, hitchhiking west with lame brother Connie, is hustled unprepared into a pro boxing match. Though he's severely beaten, manager Tommy Haley finds him promising. Arrived in California, Midge and Connie find nothing but a menial job from which Midge gets relief by seducing Emma, a lovely young waitress. One shotgun marriage later, ambitious Midge falls back on the only option he knows: boxing. Seduced by cheering crowds, money, and a succession of blondes, Midge becomes more and more of a hero in public...and a heel in private. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the three years just following World War II, Kirk Douglas had completed seven feature films. He already had caught the attention of key motion picture executives, such as producer Hal Wallis. Success was gradually coming Douglas' way. But, with "Champion", like a sudden knockout punch, Douglas instantly achieved his lofty aim. In this low-budget film gem, populated by outstanding character portrayals, Kirk Douglas' performance as boxer Midge Kelly is the bravura centerpiece. Though the multi-textured character of Kelly, as created by Ring Lardner in his short story, lends itself to a strong performance, it is Douglas who lifts the character into the stratosphere. At age 33, and having been a wrestler while attending New York's St. Lawrence University a decade earlier, Douglas still possessed the phyical tools for this role. His work in the fight and training scenes are accurate and strongly believeable. But it is his performance as Midge Kelly the individual that is stunningly riveting. During "Champion", Douglas becomes the character until it is virtually impossible to separate actor and role. He eagerly assimilates Kelly's various nuances and attitudes. Passion has always been a Kirk Douglas hallmark. Never has he been so powerfully passionate as in this performance. Contemporary audiences may like to compare the screen work of son, Michael, with that of his father. But after seeing Kirk Douglas' unforgettable performance in "Champion", comparisons fade.
In his biography, "Ragman's Son," Douglas tells of watching a screening of "Champion" in the home of a studio mogul who had invited numerous people unknown to the actor...who himself was unknown to the guests. After the screening, Douglas relates, the guests---as one---turned back toward him with overwhelmed expressions. They now had a startled new knowledge of the young actor whose presence at the back of the room they only vaguely had acknowledged.
Joining Douglas, with excellent performances of their own, were Paul Stewart, Marilyn Maxwell, Luis Van Ruten, Ruth Roman, John Day, Arthur Kennedy and Lola Albright. Each was highly believeable.
Even if Carl Foreman's adaptation of Lardner's story was sometimes predictable, the combination of Douglas' volatile performance, and the high-calibre work of the supporting actors make "Champion" a mini-masterpiece.
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