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CHAMP, THE(director: King Vidor; screenwriters: based on a story by Frances Marion/Wanda Tuchock; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: Hugh Wynn; cast: Wallace Beery (Andy Purcell, The Champ), Jackie Cooper (Dink), Irene Rich (Linda), Roscoe Ates (Sponge), Edward Brophy (Tim), Hale Hamilton (Tony), Jesse Scott (Jonah), Marcia Mae Jones (Mary Lou); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: King Vidor; MGM; 1931)
“The film is so dated that it creaks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sentimental tearjerker boxing film about a washed-up alcoholic and gambling prizefighter, Andy “Champ” Purcell (Wallace Beery), and his hero-worshiping young innocent son Dink (Jackie Cooper). It’s based on a story by Frances Marion and directed by King Vidor (“Street Scene”/”Billy the Kid”/”The Crowd”). The film is so dated that it creaks.

Though the ex-heavyweight champ Andy loves his son Dink more than anything else in the world, he’s so down-and-out that he resides in a seedy Tijuana fleabag hotel and frequents its dank pool halls. The Champ, hoping for a comeback, trains with his stuttering manager Sponge (Roscoe Ates). But when a possible fight is about to be arranged, he alienates the fight promoters when he shows up for a meeting drunk.

The kid soon learns that his mother is Linda Castleton (Irene Rich), a horse owner, and that she divorced the Champ and gave him custody of the child. Linda is now married to the wealthy businessman Tony (Hale Hamilton), who agrees to have the kid live with them and grow up proper. The Champ agrees to this as a temporary measure when he loses the money Tony gave him to buy back the horse Little Champ he lost gambling, and as a result of that gambling loss gets involved in a drunken brawl that lands him in jail.

In the climactic scene, the Champ fights the heavyweight champion of Mexico in a well choreographed fight that has the Champ regain his dignity by knocking out his better conditioned opponent. Runaway Dink, who misses his flawed but loving father, watches the fight and gushes over his father’s victory, as he moments before thought his dad was going to lose and wanted to throw in the towel rather than see him pummeled. This happy ending turns downbeat when the Champ keels over after the fight and dies of a heart attack, and the kid wins over the viewers by giving out with a good cry. To the kid’s rescue come mom and Tony, who promise to give him a good home life.

Beery shared Best Actor honors with Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Coogan’s cute performance went over big with the public, who made this film a big hit. I found it to be a trite and maudlin melodrama that failed to score many points on my scorecard.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”