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In Coaltown, Pennsylvania, miner Coke Mason hopes to better himself, buy a radio store, and marry Rose Warren. His gambler brother George thinks Coke can be more successful as a boxer, knowing that when he fights he's consumed with a murderous rage that makes him an "iron man." Seeing dollar signs in Rose's eyes, Coke reluctantly agrees, though he's fearful of the "killer instinct" that makes him a knockout success in the ring...and brings him the booing hatred of the fans. Will Coke throw off his personal demon before he kills someone? Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Fourth-billed Rock Hudson breaks away from the pack in obscure, worthy fight flick
Can it be merely coincidence, even in the relative innocence of 1951, that the boxers in Iron Man go by the names of Coke and Speed? (The fact that they're played by Jeff Chandler and Rock Hudson, whom viewers today will identify as, respectively, a cross-dresser and a gay man, adds another latter-day dimension to their sweat-lubricated clinches.) In any case, their stimulating monikers do no injustice to the story a jacked-up, strung-out fight movie that's a worthy entry in that oddly distinguished, brutal genre.
It starts in Coaltown, Pennsylvania, a mining community where the only excitement is wondering when the shafts will cave in. When Chandler takes on a bully and thoroughly thrashes him, his brother (Steve McNally) and girl (Evelyn Keyes) see a glamorous future and fast money for him and for them. The only catch is that Chandler isn't a born boxer: He's clumsy and gets pummeled. But when he's hurt (and then jeered at), he falls into blind, murderous rages, going after his opponents by fair means or foul. He wins purses and titles but not the hearts of the fans they don't like dirty fighters, and come only in hopes of seeing him get his comeuppance. But they keep coming, and soon Chandler's poised for the heavyweight title.
The story, ably directed by Joseph Pevney, follows a familiar course: The fallings-out with his brother and his wife, the big-time sportswriter who becomes his manager (Jim Backus), the fixed fight, the fallacious sense of invincibility. And the ending is a little too pat and feel-good. But it's one of Chandler's best roles (he's as good as Kirk Douglas in The Champion, if not so convincing as Robert Ryan in The Set-Up, both of two years earlier). Evelyn Keyes has but two things to do: First egg him on, then beg him to stop, but she's, as always, distinctive. (She gets slugged by him, too.)
Hudson's another case entirely. In the part of the loyal sparring-partner who turns into the challenger, he's confined to playing L'il Abner a good-natured but dim-witted lout. But in the final grudge-match, he reverts to the sheer, feral physicality of which he was capable but rarely called upon to display and, in its final scene, he all but steals the movie away from Chandler. He's the breakout star.
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