by John Farr
John Farr discusses one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas, directed by Raoul Walsh.
Gentleman Jim (1942)
What It’s About:
Sponsored by a bank executive, brash Irish pugilist and bank clerk Jim Corbett (Flynn) trains himself in the scientific methods of prize fighting at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Cocky and charismatic, Corbett works his way up the fledgling boxing hierarchy and even tries to win over the high-born Victoria Ware (Smith). But Corbett faces his ultimate challenge when he takes on famed bruiser John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) in a highly charged New Orleans bout back in 1892.
Why I Love It:
Walsh’s splendidly robust biopic of Corbett, the first fighter to win the world heavyweight title under the more refined Marquis of Queensberry rules he helped draft (i.e. no biting, kicking, or clawing), is one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas. Flynn’s deft handling of Corbett’s outsize personality – a mix of classy manners and boorish bluster – and Bond’s own turn as Sullivan, a champion boxer who can “lick any man in creation,” are the film’s main attractions. In dramatizing Corbett’s colorful career, Walsh handles the action exceedingly well, especially the final ring showdown, a bout as jarring and thrilling as anything in Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.”