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Director: Mark Robson, Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy

Cast: Mark Robson, Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy


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While far from the only good film on boxing, Champion is perhaps the best drama ever based on the fight game. It is remarkable for a number of things, including: the unrelenting, grinding logic that leads to the hero's tragic fate; the beautiful cinematography and editing that make it a masterpiece of light and shadow; near-perfect performances by everyone,


While far from the only good film on boxing, Champion is perhaps the best drama ever based on the fight game. It is remarkable for a number of things, including: the unrelenting, grinding logic that leads to the hero's tragic fate; the beautiful cinematography and editing that make it a masterpiece of light and shadow; near-perfect performances by everyone, from Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly, down to the actor who played a sleazy small-time ring manager; and the boost it gave to the budding careers of Douglas and others. The basic story has been told many times, but never so powerfully: A poor, ambitious boy accidentally learns that he is a "natural" boxer, and that he might "go all the way." He wins his early fights with ease and, at last, in the big one, he becomes champion of the world. Then rot sets in. He lives it up, deserts his loved ones and best friends, and loses his physical and moral advantages. Near the end -- out of condition, demoralized -- the champion loses (or almost loses) his boxing crown. Finally, he grits his teeth, returns to rigorous training and to people he really likes, and he regains (or holds onto) the championship. Part of Champion's dramatic superiority is in its brilliant revealing of the boxer through the eyes of other people in his life. There are good guys -- Midge's brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy), his tough but honest trainer (Paul Stewart), his wife Emma (Ruth Roman) and Johnny Dunne, the up-and-coming contender he eventually beats. There are bad guys -- the manager who cheats him in his first, amateurish fight, two successive "owners," of the diner where Midge and Connie try to be entrepreneurs and end up as dishwashers, the blonde siren (Marilyn Maxwell) who abandons Johnny Dunne and helps corrupt Midge, and the mob-connected promoter Harris, who gets Midge his championship bout. There are ambiguous in-betweens, like Palmer (Lola Albright) who is Harris' wife, but who loves Midge and is, perhaps, loved in return. Then there is Midge himself. Unlike Charlie in Body and Soul (John Garfield, 1947) or the hero of the Rocky quintuplets (Sylvester Stallone, 1976-1990), Midge is not a basically nice guy who's been led astray. His ambition, arrogance and stubbornness make him at once villain and hero. These "fatal flaws" contain, as surely as in Macbeth or Othello, the seeds of the champ's ultimate dissolution. Midge is dealt his share of life's unfairness and bad luck. Yet it is not the events themselves, but his bitter, violent responses to each blow that seal his doom. The final irony comes when he makes his comeback. In the last round of the last fight, his most manly virtues -- bull-like strength and stubborn stamina -- bring about both victory and defeat.

Too bad that this wonderful film -- nominated for six Oscars including "Best Actor" -- won only an Academy Award for "Film Editing" (Harry Gerstad) and a Golden Globe Award for "Best Cinematography" (Franz Planer). All the acting performances are superb: Champion was the breakthrough role for Douglas; his Oscar nomination led to many later starring vehicles. Champion also launched the careers of actresses Roman and Albright, and has what is probably Marilyn Maxwell's finest performance as the unforgettable golddigger, Grace Diamond. And all that terrific acting certainly implies some credit for Director Mark Robson, who went on to do award-winners like Bright Victory and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Regardless of what Oscars it won or didn't win, Champion is a landmark film that should be on everyone's "must see" list. The film is also available on beautiful, digitally remastered video.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Mark Robson's Champion was one of three boxing movies that caught the public's interest in the late '40s. Nastier in tone than Body and Soul (1947) or The Set-Up (1949), Champion is perhaps the harshest example of the genre, a descent into a moral abyss in which its hero -- Kirk Douglas at his brashest and most intense -- leads the charge and never looks back at what he's given up. In contrast to John Garfield's Charley Davis in Body and Soul, who sells his soul for success but redeems his honor in the end, and Robert Ryan's Stoker Thompson in The Set-Up, who is a victim plain and simple, Douglas' Midge Kelly is the architect of his own destruction. The movie raised some unpleasant truths about human nature, and Douglas was so compelling in a vile and irredeemable role that he almost single-handedly changed the rules for the roles that could be played by Hollywood leading men and in which the public would accept them. (Billy Wilder and Fred MacMurray had already made progress in this direction with Double Indemnity in 1944, but most leading men were still unwilling to take that kind of risk.) Had Douglas, pegged as one of Hollywood's comers, not taken the role near the outset of his career and run with it to an Oscar nomination and box-office success, we might never have seen financing for such movies as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One, On the Waterfront, The Naked Jungle, The Harder They Fall, The Man With the Golden Arm, or other groundbreaking antihero vehicles of the 1950s, which were Hollywood's most daring films of a decade often regarded as bland. Ironically, Champion received more Oscar nominations than any other boxing film made up to that time (and until Raging Bull), in every major category except Best Director, which was telling about Robson's career -- he was a workmanlike director capable of occasional inspiration, but his best films featured the close involvement of a producer, Val Lewton early on and Stanley Kramer (who, with Douglas, reaped the lion's share of career benefits from this film) on Champion.

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Olive Films
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Kirk Douglas Midge Kelly
Marilyn Maxwell Grace Diamond
Arthur Kennedy Connie Kelly
Paul Stewart Tommy Haley
Ruth Roman Emma Bryce
Lola Albright Mrs. Harris
Luis Van Rooten Jerome Harris
John Day Johnny Dunne
Harry Shannon Lew Bryce
Ralph Sanford Hammond
Esther Howard Mrs. Kelly

Technical Credits
Mark Robson Director
Carl Foreman Screenwriter
Harry Gerstad Editor
Goldie Goldmark Songwriter
Stanley Kramer Producer
Franz Planer Cinematographer
Rudolph Sternad Production Designer
Robert Stillman Associate Producer
Dimitri Tiomkin Score Composer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Champion
1. Chapter I [12:38]
2. Chapter II [10:22]
3. Chapter III [14:42]
4. Chapter IV [11:10]
5. Chapter V [10:39]
6. Chapter VI [9:39]
7. Chapter VII [12:45]
8. Chapter VIII [17:04]

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