Boxer Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones) is the world's reigning heavyweight boxing champion. There's just one problem, he is also the first black heavyweight champion, and that bothers a lot of people. Jack's celebration is cut short, as Jack is framed for crossing a state line with Eleanor, his white fiancé (Jane Alexander in her first film role), a violation of the Mann Act. Facing a prison sentence, Jack escapes to Europe, with Eleanor in tow, encountering problems in England, and then France, and eventually landing in Cuba. In Havana, Jack agrees to enter the boxing ring for what might be the bout of his life. Both Jones and Alexander were nominated for Oscars. Written by
Here is a very special film. While not a biography, it is biographical, while essentially about a fighter, it is not a fight film.
I think the world first saw multiple award winner James Earle Jones as the impoverished father of a baby girl who is bitten by a rat while living in a run down tenement block. This was in the now rare, Emmy award winning TV series "East Side West Side". The series ran one season and also gave us a glimpse of the powerful talents of George C. Scott as the central character.
The outstanding episode that Jones guest stared in was titled "Who Do You Kill" It was essentially here, in 1963, we were first introduced to the raw potential of this dynamic Afro-American actor. A few years later, Scott and Jones would appear on theatre screens together.
"The Great White Hope" would have to be one of the best (if not 'the best') film to show the extent of racial intolerance that existed in 1900 American society and particularly in sporting circles. For many, this film will be exhausting to watch, both for the strong situations it examines and the astounding performances of the two main leads.
It's easy to see why both these performers won Tonys for their roles in the stage play, and Oscar nominations for their film portrayals of the same characters. Matin Ritt, a survivor of the House of Un-American Activities witch-hunt, is absolutely the right Director ('Edge of the City', 'Hud', etc). Just as Burnett Guffey ('Here to Eternity', 'All The Kings Men" etc) is the right Director of Photography. They have created a film that sparkles in all departments. While you don't want it to end ~ you are relieved when it does.
I'm sure the transfer of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning play to motion picture (both penned by Howard Sackler) must have brought with it greater personal connection for the audience. It's also interesting to note that one of the integral supporting characters (Pop) played by veteran actor Chester Morris - in his last film (befor suiciding while dying of cancer at age 69) also guest stared in an episode of "East Side West Side" shortly after the James Earle Jones Ep. His episode: "The Name of The Game" aired in 1964.
If you like great drama with a background set in historical fact, be sure you see "The Great White Hope"....Ken Roche.
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