Synopsis by Eleanor Mannikka
This excellent documentary on the American boxing champion Joe Louis reveals little-publicized facts about the end of his extraordinary career. Using still photos and newsreels, director Peter Tatum recalls the many fights won by the "Brown Bomber" against fighters like Primo Carnera and one of his three losses, in a comeback fight against Rocky Marciano. Marciano wept when he knocked out Louis, someone he idolized (Marciano was 28 at the time of the fight, and Louis 37). Joe Louis himself won the heavyweight championship at the age of 23 and defended it a record 25 times, yet his most politically celebrated victory was the 1938 rematch fight against Max Schmelling, who represented Nazi Germany in the ring. Louis donated his winnings from two championship fights at the beginning of World War II to the Navy and Army relief funds -- yet this money was still taxed by the IRS -- a new piece of information that director Tatum and scripter Budd Schulberg argue is one indication of IRS discrimination against the black fighter. After working to recruit soldiers and raise the morale of U.S. troops with speeches, Louis ended the war period owing $1,000,000 to the IRS, and had to sign up for fights he should not have taken to pay off the debt. He also became a wrestler for awhile, out of financial necessity. He ended up as a host at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The first black heavyweight champion (68 victories, 3 defeats) to hold the title for as long as 12 years, the youngest to gain the title, Louis had earned over $4 million in his career but had little to show for it at the end of his life.