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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 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 »
Well, when a man beats us out like this, we, of course, look foolish, but more important, so does the law. People lose respect for law, and that we just cannot afford right now. You may not be aware of it yet, but a very large, very black migration is in progress. They're coming from the fields down South, filling up the slums. And I am talking about hundreds of thousands, maybe millions soon. Millions of ignorant Negroes rapidly massing together. Now, we cannot allow the image of this man to ...
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Screenplay by Howard Sackler Based on his play See more »
Well worth seeing though I wished they hadn't fictionalized the story.
In 1968, the play "The Great White Hope" debuted. In 1969, it received the Tony award for Best Play and Best Actor. In an unusual move, Hollywood brought this film to the screen and kept the two leads--James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.
The story is a fictionalized version a portion of the career of Jack Johnson. Names were changed (Johnson became Jefferson)--and I assume this was to avoid legal difficulties if the play and film differed from Johnson's real life. However, despite a few changes, it clearly IS the career of Jack Johnson from just before he won the Heavyweight Championship through his legal troubles because he had the temerity to sleep with a white woman during an era of rabid racism.
The second half of the film concerns Jefferson's exile. After a trumped up charge for violating the Mann Act (intended for prosecuting the prostitution trade), he and his friends flee the country. During this time, work is hard to come by and slowly Jefferson's spirits begin to fail--and he begins lashing out at everyone. First, it's his trainer and friends and then he becomes vicious towards his white girlfriend--very, very, very vicious. This part of the film is harder to watch and seems a bit slow, though I admire how the film didn't try to portray the man as an angel or just stoically accepting his fate, as Johnson's life did spiral out of control following his legal problems. He became an emotional mess--just like Jefferson.
Overall, this is a good film about race prejudice but it's not perfect. I would have rather they'd just dropped the 'Jefferson' stuff and simply made a biography of Johnson. Also, there is a lag in the film's tempo and the film drags a bit in portions of the second half. Still, it's a powerful film and you'll see Jones at his very best.
By the way, at the 53 minute mark, you see Mr. Jefferson and his entourage watching the guards outside Buckingham Palace. In the distance, you can see MODERN buses and cars--not ones from the early 20th century. It's probably not apparent on smaller televisions, but on the 58" one I saw this film on, it was VERY clear--and must have been even more obvious to folks who saw it in the theaters! Also, in case you were wondering, at the outdoor beer hall in Germany the German soldier kept shouting 'Kameradschaft'. This translates to 'to Comradeship' or 'camaraderie'.
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