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GOLDEN BOY(director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: Lewis Meltzer/Daniel Taradash, Sarah Y. Mason/Victor Heerman/based on the play by Clifford Odets; cinematographers: Nick Musuraca/Karl Freund; editor: Otto Meyer; music: Victor Young; cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Lorna Moon), Adolphe Menjou (Tom Moody), William Holden (Joe Bonaparte), Joseph Calleia (Eddie Fuseli), Sam Levene (Siggie), Edward S. Brophy (Roxy Lewis), Lee J. Cobb (Mr. Bonaparte), Beatrice Blinn (Anna), Don Beddoe (Borneo), William H. Strauss (Mr. Carp), James ‘Cannonball’ Green (Chocolate Drop); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Perlberg; Columbia Picture; 1939)
“Mamoulian’s film holds together even if it can’t completely overcome all its clichés.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rouben Mamoulian (“Applause”/”City Streets”) directs Clifford Odets’ 1937 Broadway play about a boy from the New York City ghetto who gives up his violin for boxing gloves. Though it remains heavy-handed, shopworn and stagebound, the talented Mamoulian does his best to prune the original’s stilted dialogue and keep it engaging on a personal level. Also gone is the labor organizer role, a mouthpiece for Odets’ political struggle over capitalism. The studio was accused of softening the hard-hitting Broadway cynicism with a Hollywood happy ending, but since both views were naive it didn’t really matter one way or the other. The handsome twenty year old William Holden in his film debut, thanks to star Barbara Stanwyck giving him her OK to studio boss Harry Cohn and continued emotional support, stands up well as the hero of the title. The melodrama survives its tiresome moral dilemmas by standing on its feet throughout and answering the final bell with stylish direction, good use of chiaroscuro lighting effects and an exciting final fight (shot on location in Madison Square Garden). Not a box office hit, still the critics mostly gave it good reviews.

Brash violinist Joe Bonaparte (William Holden) convinces sleazy, financially struggling fight manager Tom Moody (Adolphe Menjou) to let him fight a tough middleweight when the fighter in his stable comes up with a broken hand when sparring with Joe. His father (Lee J. Cobb, 27 at the time), the owner of a small Italian deli and yapping away with a fake Chico Marx Italian accent, yearns for his son to be a violinist, and reacts with disappointment when Joe tells him he got a $100 for winning the boxing match. Joe turns his back on his dad’s dreams and the first-class violin he bought for his 21st birthday tomorrow. After taking to boxing and finding it lucrative to be with Moody as his manager and Roxy Lewis (Edward S. Brophy) as a promoter owning a ten percent interest, the conflicted Joe drifts back to his violin. The married Moody’s long-suffering mistress from Newark, Lorna Moon (Barbara Stanwyck), picked up by him on 39th Street, catches Joe’s eye and talks him back in the ring. After a falling out with Moody, Joe signs with mobster Eddie Fuseli (Joseph Calleia) and wins his biggest fight against Chocolate Drop in a knockout, where he kills him in the ring. This leads the guilt-stricken Joe to walk away from the fight game before the championship fight, as he leaves with a broken hand, Lorna by his side, his proud dad welcoming him back home with open arms and a chance to go back to his music.

Stanwyck sparkles as the worldly dame who knows a dozen ways to get the naive Holden to fight or play the violin. Menjou is colorful as the cynical cold-hearted manager. Calleia is delightful as the tough racketeer with an itchy trigger-finger. Despite saddled with the stiffness of Odets’s flowery words, Mamoulian’s film holds together even if it can’t completely overcome all its clichés.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”