Body and Soul (1947) *** ½
Directed by: Robert Rossen.
Written by: Abraham Polonsky.
Starring: John Garfield (Charley
), Lilli Palmer (Peg Born), Hazel Brooks ( Davis ), Anne Revere (Anna Davis), William Conrad (Quinn), Joseph Pevney (Shorty Polaski), Lloyd Gough (Roberts), Alice Lee (Ben Chaplin). Canada
Boxing may be the most movie friendly of all sports. There is just two guys in a confined space punching each other. There is something both beautiful and brutal about the sport. That is why, I think, there are so many boxing films made. It is also because boxing has been so corrupt for so long. The boxers themselves are treated as little more than pieces of meat – pawns in the games run by the guys who make the real money. You want a title shot, you got to play by their rules. Body and Soul, Robert Rossen’s 1947 film, is one of the best.
The film stars the great John Garfield as Charley Davis, a young, talented boxer. He wants a title shot, but no one wants to give it to him. So he just fights and keeps fighting, until he’s in a position that they can no longer deny him the chance. They need a new champ anyway. The old one, Ben Chaplin (Canada Lee) got severely injured in his final fight, and his doctors tell him not to box again – it could kill him. So finally Roberts (Lloyd Gough), who runs everything, comes to Charley to give him his shot. Chaplin’s manager agrees to let him fight one more time, but asks Roberts to tell Charley to go easy on him. They’ll get their fight, Charley will knock out Chaplin, and they’ll have their new champ. The problem is that Roberts never tells Charley to go easy on Chaplin. When one of his underlings says that the fight could kill Chaplin, Roberts doesn’t care. The audience loves a killer. Soon Charley is the champ, and like many before him, success goes to his head. He is popular, he is making lots of money, and he wants to have fun. He pushes away the people who care about him – his old friend and manager Shorty (Joseph Pevney), his worried, pacifist mother (Anne Revere) and even his long suffering fiancé Peg (Lilli Palmer). Instead, he starts running around with a woman who doesn’t care about him at all – Alice (Hazel Brooks). She wants his money, she wants to be seen with a celebrity. She knows, and somewhere in his mind Charley knows, that as soon as he’s not the champ, and the money runs out, that
will be gone. But that’s okay with Charley – he doesn’t think the money or his stint as a champ will ever run out. Alice
Body and Soul is still a fine film. It’s impact and influence on the boxing movies that followed it cannot be overstated. Yes, over the years, it has become somewhat creaky and preachy at parts – it doesn’t quite pack the wallop it once surely did. But overall it is a fine film – the prototype of what a boxing film was, that was followed to a certain extent by all of the boxing films that came later.