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 »
So, what do you say? If that's no white hope, I'm Queen Pocahontas.
He's the right stuff, Dan. Maybe a little raw yet.
*Fresh*. Fresh is what he is. Big, clean, strong. A real farm boy. They're waiting on their knees for someone like him.
I'm ready to promote it, Dan. What do you think?
I think he's a full-grown polar bear, myself. He's the best of the bunch, I won't argue that. But say we send him over, bang! It's 10-to-1 the black boy does it again. Then where are we?
We won't ever have it on...
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Screenplay by Howard Sackler Based on his play See more »
I first saw the play at least 35 years ago when it debuted at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander in the lead roles. Recently, Arena revived the play, and I thought it was dated and a dud. But the film, which has just appeared on PBS, reminded me of the power, not so much of the play which has elements of caricature, but of the acting. Jones and Alexander were both outstanding in the movie, Jones as the black heavyweight champion (Jack Johnson in thin disguise)and Alexander as his white lover. The two of them deserved the stardom that came with these roles when the play moved from the Arena Stage to Broadway. It may not even be the best movie about boxing, but it's worth seeing because of Jones and Alexander. Moreover, the virulent racism directed at Jack Jefferson (Jones's character) and the role of the Federal government in prosecuting him under the Mann act are useful reminders of the way our country was at the beginning of the 20th Century. long ago.
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