This film's earliest documented telecast in the New York City area occurred Wednesday 15 October 1947 on the DuMont Television Network's WABD (Channel 5). In Detroit it first aired Saturday 7 May 1949 on WXYZ (Channel 2), in Chicago Tuesday 21 June 1949 on WENR (Channel 7), and in Los Angeles Sunday 5 February 1950 on KNBH (Channel 4). See more »
With the minimal dialog that Joe Louis is given in a production starring himself you'd hardly believe that he's in Bartlett's Quotations twice. But the man who said 'we're on God's side' and 'he can run but he can't hide' has little to say in Spirit Of Youth. That's because his managers John Roxborough and Julian Black knew that as an actor Joe Louis was a great heavyweight champion.
This film was part of a money making scheme that Roxborough and Black set up for Louis and note in the credits they cut themselves in for a piece of the action as 'technical advisers'. When Spirit Of Youth came out Louis had been heavyweight champion for a year and he was a hot property that his handlers looked to exploit and the black cinema of the time was one way to do it.
Louis plays Joe Thomas, a black sharecropper kid from Alabama who goes north to Detroit as thousands did in those days to get a job and make some real money. He finds he has talent in his fists and works hard to become heavyweight champion. In other words, someone like Joe Louis.
Short lived poverty row studio Grand National picked up the distribution of this film giving it an access to mainstream markets that most black productions didn't have. Spirit Of Youth also had in the cast Clarence Muse and Mantan Moreland who did appear in lots of mainstream films and were familiar to white audiences.
Muse is a character modeled on John Roxborough and Moreland plays his corner man much as Jack Blackburn was in real life. Blackburn however was a former boxer himself so Louis would never have to come to his rescue as he does with Moreland. In scenes with both Muse and Moreland Joe's deficiencies as a thespian are painfully apparent.
As for the plot he's a clean living kid with talents as pugilist who gets led astray by bad girl Mae Turner, but is pulled back on the straight and narrow by Edna Mae Harris.
Joe Louis was a great heavyweight and a great man from the last century, pity he did not a get film to go with it. After his career was over there was a Joe Louis Story film done with Coley Wallace in the lead. In production values not much better than this, but at least an actor was in the lead.
Still it made the money it was supposed to and that was its object. No one here thought they were creating great cinematic art.
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