(1970)4Michael CostelloMartin Ritt's screen adaptation of the Howard Sackler play which catapulted James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander to fame in 1967 remains essentially the filmed record of a stage work, but in its stinging eloquence, and in what is arguably Jones' finest performance on film, it retains a rewarding vitality. Set in 1910, the story of Jack Jefferson (Jones) and his attempt to establish his preeminence as the world heavyweight champion in the face of a white world which conspired against him, it's loosely based on the tragic life of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champ. Like the play, the film reveals the ugliness of the boxer's life as a marked man after winning the heavyweight crown, hounded by boxing officials and politicians who used the illegality of his marriage to a white woman (Alexander) to keep on the run and out of the ring. Despite its huge cast of characters and backdrops spread across five continents, the film's tragic hero evokes virtually imprisoned classical figures such as Milton's Samson and Sophocles' Philoctetes, also gifted men unjustly tormented. Jones' towering performance gives voice to the pride and intelligence which makes the boxer's suffering even more acute, as he watches his career destroyed by racist cowards. Alexander in the lesser role of his tragic mate is easily his equal.