Champion (1949)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Sports Drama  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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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.