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
In addition to Jack Jefferson being based on Jack Johnson, several other characters are based on real life individuals. Frank Brady is a stand-in for Jim Jeffries, the former heavyweight champion who came out of retirement to try to end Johnson's title reign, Cap'n Dan is based on "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, the racist former champion refused to fight black men as champion, and the Kid is a stand-in for Jess Willard, the fighter who eventually beat Johnson for the title in Havana in 1915. Eleanor is a composite of two white women Johnson married, Etta Duryea (who, like Eleanor, committed suicide), and Lucille Cameron, who he fled the country with after being convicted. See more »
In the first scene in which we see Jefferson practicing, the sweat on his shirt changes from shot to shot in a way that wouldn't be predicted by evaporation. See more »
When I was a wee lad of 14 I saw this film and it blew me away. James earl Jones was by and large unknown and he was picked to do the role over Brock Peters who had done the role on Broadway. This was a film (and play) that was vastly ahead of its time as it dealt with an athlete of color (there may have been a film about Jackie Robinson but it didn't have much an impact because I don't remember it and I loved Burt Lancaster as the Native American Jim Thorpe but that rang no more true than Jeff Chandler playing Native Americans) and it dealt with the issue of miscegenation and inter-racial sexual and romantic relationships. Its clear the characters in the film (and play) are composites except for Jack Johnson because Ken Burns' 'Unofrgivable Blackness" of which I have only seen the first installment as of this writing goes into great detail on the dramatic personae of Johnson's stories including the real boxers Johnson fought and the real women he loved.
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