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It's criminal that this movie doesn't get the type of attention or
respect it deserves. Great White Hope chronicles the life of Jack
Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, and his bouts with the
racism of the 1900s. Before this movie, I never understood where James
Earl Jones got his reputation from. Clearly it's from this. He commands
all of the scenes he's shot in, demonstrating a mastery of his craft
that I've rarely with any other actor. Jones rages and roars through
the movie, conveying a mixture of pride and frailty that is simply not
to be missed.
At the risk of being redundant: don't sleep on this movie. It's James Earl Jones at his best.
Before I fully begin, let me make one thing clear: The emphasis in this
film is not boxing, but the life of a boxer (Jack Johnson) played by
James Earl Jones (Darth Vader).
In telling the tale of Johnson's life this movie depicts the racial boundaries going on in America in the early 20th century. Unlike many films which tell a tale of racial injustice, this film manages to do it:
a) Without sugar coating anything. b) Without being over-dramatic.
I saw it today on television and I didn't know what to expect before it started. I was interested to see it because I've heard references made to it in the past and was curious. I can say for certain that giving this film a chance, and watching it beginning to end, is the best movie-related decision I've made in a long time (at least ten-thousand times better than deciding to rent Resident Evil 2).
In watching this I got a deep sense of reality. A big reason for this is a simply phenomenal performance by James Earl Jones, as well as solid acting on the part of Jane Alexander and many of the supporting cast members.
I couldn't believe that IMDb only has 8 reviews of this movie (at least at the time of me writing this), and due to some folks totally missing the point of it, it has a somewhat sad rating.
SEE this film if you are into compelling stories about interesting people which are well written and acted.
DON'T see this film if you expect Rocky III.
There are a lot of good movies out there and I enjoy all manner of cinema, but I can say without a doubt in my mind that The Great White Hope has made it into the realm of my favorites.
10 out of 10
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.
Recently, Ken Burns wrote an editorial calling on Americans to make
amends for what they as a society did to Jack Johnson. "The Great White
Hope" shows what American society did to him.
James Earl Jones plays Johnson, called Jack Jefferson here (the movie is fictionalized). He was everything that a black man in the early 20th century was not supposed to be: assertive, proud, and married to a white woman. His wife Eleanor (Jane Alexander) accepted him for who he was. Naturally, white people didn't like their marriage one bit; the black population believed that Johnson was "...gainin' an attraction to the white man's poon tang." Ostracized from society, Jack and Eleanor tried to live privately, but they were constantly hounded. Jack became increasingly abusive towards Eleanor, until she took her own life. Distraught, Jack went in for one last showdown in Cuba.
Regardless of what you think of the movie overall, it's important because it shows a part of our history that we may never be able to get over, and in fact are still addressing today. Director Martin Ritt espouses the same kind of social awareness that he discussed in "Hud", "Sounder", "Conrack" and "The Front". A masterpiece.
As an 18-yr old, I vividly remember when this movie came out and the
swirling controversies that accompanied it. Whites were cautious
because it openly dealt with not only an interracial love affair but
because of the depiction of an unrelenting, proud, but very angry black
man. Interestingly enough, with the advent of Black Power/the
Revolution and the emergence of the Black Panthers, most black
audiences were equally cautious as well and for exactly the same
reasons. Also keep in mind I was living in the South then too. Even in
1970, few southern towns would actually show the film.
This is a variation on the real-life troubles of Jack Johnson, one of boxing's earliest contenders.
Hands down the most compelling performances are those of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander that leave an indelible imprint on the viewer. Because of the racial fabric of the time, Jack knew he was asking for trouble by openly defying white authority and then compounding that by becoming involved with a white woman. Both undoubtedly knew full well what they would be up against. While they may have deeply loved each other in the beginning, they soon discovered that simply love does not conquer all.
The movie is also filled with treasures of African-American performances by the likes of Beah Richards, Moses Gunn, Roy Glenn Sr. and Virginia Capers. This alone is worth the price of admission.
In many instances it is most difficult to watch. Two mesmerizing and thoroughly wrenching scenes were Jane's suicide and when Jack and company were reduced to performing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Europe to survive.
The film is most certainly uncompromising which was a MAJOR achievement given the social fabric at the time. James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander both deserved Oscars for their performances but that would have been like condoning their whole situation and god KNOWS Hollywood would NEVER have done that.....(sigh) Another example of not being able to see the forest for the trees.
Nonetheless, this is an eeeeeeeeeexcellent film and most worthy of your movie collection
Concluding reviewing African-Americans in film in chronological order for Black History Month, we're at the near end of 1970 when James Earl Jones reprises his Tony-winning role as boxer Jack Jefferson in film version of The Great White Hope which got him an Oscar nomination. Since this takes place in the early part of the 20th century, he's not very much liked by the majority white public of America at the time certainly whenever he's seen with his Caucasian female partner Eleanor Backman (Jane Alexander, also Academy nominated). His former girlfriend Clara (Marlene Warfield) certainly resents Eleanor for usurping her power over Jack who has no use for her. Good thing he has his manager Goldie (Lou Gilbert) as well as his trainer Tick (Joel Fluellen) on his side so they all go to Europe where they don't have to worry about jail time. I'll just stop there and just say that the staginess is quite evident in many scenes. Still, both Jones and Ms. Alexander are effective whenever they're together whether intimate or arguing. And Fluellen has his biggest role here and makes the most of it. In addition, it was such a treat, after playing husband-and-wife in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, to see Beah Richards-as Jack's mother-and Roy Glenn-as a pastor at her house-in the same scene again. And seeing Bill Walker-so memorable as Reverend Sykes in To Kill a Mockingbird-playing a deacon in an early scene was also pleasurable to me. One more thing, Hal Holbrook has a memorable turn as an attorney interviewing Ms. Alexander. So on that note, The Great White Hope is highly recommended. Oh, and while this is the official last entry for BHM, there are a few movies I wanted to review in the time alloted that I'm viewing in the next few days (or weeks, depending on my mood) so if you are reading this under my username, watch this space for those reviews...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
********THIS MAY CONTAIN A SPOILER******** ********THIS MAY CONTAIN A
SPOILER******** ********THIS MAY CONTAIN A SPOILER******** This film
was beautiful and heart-rending. To correct another reviewer, YES, this
does have a boxing scene in it. A wonderful one. I actually had to step
out when the main character was about to get his first big match, so it
may even have two scenes. But really the beauty is in the drama and the
almost Shekespearean tragedy. Does the hero triumph in the end? No, but
neither do his enemies, for thought they revel in it, it is all of
humanity that suffers a loss in this man's defeat.
I.K. from Scandinavia has posted a review of this film that can only be viewed as blatantly racist. According to this person, "I only wanted to see this movie because of Jane Alexander and Karl-Otto Alberty, both favorites of mine." FINE. Whatever your reasons, yo saw the movie. And you didn't like the movie. Fine as well. Perhaps you don't like this type of movie or perhaps James Earl Jones didn't convince you or any other number of reasonable opinions. But to call this movie a typical boxing movie is completely ignoring the touchy subject matter. It's like you fastforwarded all the talking parts. From the looks of it, all the other movies you've reviewed involve espionage and very white European spies operating during WWII. A keen interest in Hitler as well.
But you offer no other clue as to why this film had nothing to offer to you, save this telling remark, "although it has some provocative scenes (black man having sex with white woman)." Since when in the past 40 years has this ever been called "provocative" except from ignorant bigots such as yourself? I have petitioned the administrators to remove your racist review and I hope that they will remove this response to it as well, seeing as there will be no need for it. I truly hope your shortsighted views are not indicative of your country of origin (although I doubt it) because you are a terrible representative and a shame to your fellow countrymen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Earl Jones steps into the metaphorical Hollywood ring playing the
first African-American to break the colour barrier as Jack Jefferson
(based on real life boxer Jack Johnson). Not only that but he also goes
on to become the first African-American to win the World Heavyweight
Champion. After winning the Championship, the boxing community was
deeply outraged by such events, that Jefferson becomes an instant
target of racism as scouts were splurging around looking for their next
"White Hope". If that isn't enough, the outrage is turned up another
notch in both the white and black community as Jefferson is currently
in a relationship with a Caucasian woman Eleanor Bachman (Jane
Alexander). And while Jefferson keeps knocking down all these tough
guys to their feet, these detractors use underhanded tactics to finally
bring him down.
Under the direction of Martin Ritt (who directed such classics as "Hud" and "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold"), and based on a play by Howard Sackler (who also wrote two "Jaws" scripts), the movie is one to likely hold one's interest but it doesn't measure up the long-running very successful play. The primary struggle this movie has is the standard clichéd look at the world of boxing during that time period (early 1910's) and the somewhat theatrical performance by James Earl Jones. The story feels too narrow thin and Jones' performance is way too powerful (I'll give him a break it was his first starring role), but the film is very lopsided and awkward in its delivery.
With that said, Jones gives an amazing performance and the powerful bass voice he possesses will deliver the message across from here to kingdom come. Is it possible that they refrained from a cool cat like Sidney Poitier character to a more loud, eternally defensive character to add more tension for the character and the predominately bigoted Caucasian characters? It also seems interesting that even through trials and tribulations, Jefferson still has a smile on his face, even though his smile is obviously superficial. Jones was excellent in his Oscar nominated role complete as a weighs in a grimaced expression faced with an angering interior.
Aside from Jones' powerful performance, Jane Alexander was wonderful as she reprises her Broadway performance as the troubled caught-in-the-middle Caucasian love-interest to Jack. We feel her pain as bi-racial relationships was not tolerated in that time period, let alone when this film was released in 1970 for that matter. but her anguish will likely melt your heartstrings in the right place. It's too bad she never rose further in the film industry as other divas in the 1960's and 1970's.
The film loses its panache once Jefferson is forced to leave the United States for (Cuba?)and issues start to drag on for too long making the movie not intended for cinema. It starts to become formulaic and predictable. But in all fairness "The Great White Hope" set the bar for other boxing movies of this calibre like "The Hurricane" and "Ali". The boxing scenes feel real and authentic, but the issues on racism in movies have been going on for years that it's something I've seen thousands of times. But at the end, the powerful message left me with a lump in my throat. It was that powerful.
Even though this movie was lopsided and not very setting at times, it still grabs your attention and delivers a very powerful punch. I recommend this movie mostly to the performances and the characters especially from James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander and for the supporting stars as well like Hal Holbrook, Moses Gunn, Robert Webber, Beah Richards and R.G. Armstrong. If you ever have a chance please feel free to watch this movie and feel intrigued by it.
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.
The title is no misnomer:although the movie tells the story of a black
champion,"they " get out of their way to thwart this living "threat "
for the white race;as users noticed it ,do not watch it if you expect
"rocky": it's its exact contrary ,a failure story.
James Earl Jones portrays this fighter with a great dignity till the last pictures:he is bullied ,humiliated,persecuted;the best scene is for me that ridiculous performance of "Uncle Tom's cabin" on stage,with Jones and Alexander wearing wigs ,and playing the slave and Evangeline .
If Jones is not Rocky,Jane Alexander is not Adrian either;first of all ,she is white and well meaning were not prepared to accept it at the time (we are far from "guess who's coming to dine" in which a white bubble head girl is to marry a black future Nobel Prize).Alexander's transformation is extraordinary: a shy elegant lady in the first sequence,then a defiant woman during her "questioning",a partner who accompanies the champion in all his sufferings and humiliations -she is sublime as Eva ,the part of a little girl- and finally a broken human being,living in poverty,beaten by the man she loves in spite of all.
This is a movie for people with a strong heart ,and Martin Ritt always was an activist director ;I'd tone it a bit : he had always thought that France was the country where there was no racism (see also "Paris blues ,1961):it's wishful thinking.
That said ,you should not miss this courageous work.
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