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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 <email@example.com>
Hollywood loves prize fighting stories. The films about this subject are too numerous to mention, but encompass nearly all decades and include "The Crowd Roars," "The Prizefighter and the Lady," "Golden Boy," "Humoresque," "Body and Soul," "The Harder They Fall," "Million Dollar Baby," "Raging Bull," "Cinderella Man" - I could go on and on. "Champion" is the story of a prize fighter who makes it to the big time by stepping on those who care about him - also not a new topic for Hollywood. This film was the one that made Kirk Douglas a star, winning him an Oscar nomination. Like the character he plays here, Midge Kelly, Douglas was on his way to the top.
The story begins at the fight for the championship as Midge reflects on his life. The story is then told in flashback. At the last minute, with the promise of $50, Midge (real name Michael) steps into a prize fight. A manager thinks he has talent and gives Midge his card. Midge and his lame brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy) make their way to Los Angeles, believing they have purchased an interest in a coffee shop there. When they arrive, they learn that their cousin has bilked them and someone else owns the place. The owner gives them both a job and they both fall for the waitress there, Emma (Ruth Roman), the daughter of the owner. When dad catches Emma with Midge, he forces them to marry, after which Connie and Midge take off. They seek out the fight manager but by now, he is retired. However, Midge convinces him to take him as a client.
Along the way, Midge gets involved with a tough blond, Grace (Marilyn Maxwell), fires his manager and goes with someone else, dumps Grace for another woman (Lola Albright), spends money like water, and basically gets everyone to hate him. Connie talks Emma into moving to Chicago and staying with Connie and Midge's mother who is ill; Midge of course never shows up until he learns she's dying. He then has his final confrontation with Emma, which gets ugly.
This is a dark, absorbing film - two brothers who deal with life very differently, one with anger and the other with gentleness. The focus is on Midge who as he rises higher and higher becomes colder and colder. Strangely, because we understand the genesis of his need for applause and power, we can't hate him, only feel pity.
Kirk Douglas, with his fantastic build, the tight jaw, the dimples and the cleft chin made an ideal movie star. Watching him at this age (32) you can see Michael's resemblance to him. Douglas' intense way of speaking and tense jaw have made him easily imitated for years. Though his acting is often dismissed today, he is a very good actor, even if now he seems at times a little over the top. The style of acting has changed, that's all. He gives a very complete performance as Midge - passionate, tough, angry, and needy. Arthur Kennedy, a more subtle actor and one much more appreciated even now, is wonderful as Connie. Young Ruth Roman does a good job as Emma but perhaps is too classy for the role.
Be advised one of the fights is particularly gruesome, and the director, Mark Robson, sought to give a realistic picture of the fight game using real announcers and referees.
Recommended as good drama, good early Kirk Douglas, and if you like boxing.
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