"The race of gladiators has not died," says Flaubert, "every artist is one." The starting point is Golden Boy, the ghetto mug (John Garfield) is already the champion at the onset, a night view of the vacant training pit cranes to his supine figure lost in nightmares. Another Weegee perspective rises out of a locker room for a flashback before the big fight, from amateur to titleholder is the fatalistic noir trajectory bluntly carved by Robert Rossen and Abraham Polonsky. The Old World is a candy shop blown to smithereens, New York to Mom (Anne Revere) is a jungle "so you can only be a wild animal," the Jewish upstart is Blake's Tyger and no mistake. The prizefighter's conscience, the ghost in "the money machine"—the Greenwich Village painter (Lilli Palmer) hopes to save it, the gangland promoter (Lloyd Gough) proceeds to corrupt it. Blood money on the ropes, "you only have to bend down to pick it up." The archetypal boxing morality play plus the archetypal prole-Garfield turn, groundwork for Polonsky's own treatment of the bottom of the world (Force of Evil). Surveying a system punch-drunk by capital, Rossen is admirably upfront with his juxtapositions: One composition pins cheery Coca-Cola plaques on a boarded-up Bowery door, another places a convulsing speed bag in the foreground and the leggy torso of the nightclub chanteuse (Hazel Brooks) in the background. On the Waterfront's rooftops are visible, William Conrad with stogie and pool cue provides a foretaste of The Hustler, James Wong Howe goes to town in the bout sequences with cinematography at once newsreel and expressionistic. (The handheld camera is slugged in one POV shot and tumbles backward, overhead lights flood the screen.) A nexus of future filmmakers (Robert Aldrich, Nathan Juran, Joseph Pevney and Robert Parrish are all here in one capacity or another), the body politic's bruising arm. Champion and The Set-Up follow in quick succession, Raging Bull is a febrile distillate. With Canada Lee, Art Smith, Artie Dorrell, and Virginia Gregg. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce