Boxing and the Movies: Here’s an Anthology Series That Packs a Punch

The late Stanley Weston, who had a long association with The Ring magazine, rising from copy boy to publisher, once said that he really didn’t like boxing but he liked to write about boxing because it was the sport with the best storylines. Over the years, those compelling storylines have captured the attention of some of the world’s best filmmakers. Before Hollywood got around to making good baseball movies (think Field of Dreams, The Natural, and Bull Durham, all released in the 1980s) there was a rich tapestry of good boxing movies.

Beginning Friday, Aug. 18, and running through Aug. 27, nine boxing movies will be screened at No. 32 Second Avenue in New York City’s East Village, home to Anthology Film Archives, where movies are treasured as an art form rather than a form of commerce. It’s an eclectic nine-pack, including film noir, documentaries, and even a screwball comedy, and there’s something harmonic about anchoring the festival in this fortress-like brick building, originally a courthouse and jail, which dates back to the days of some of the silent films that have been preserved here.

 Here are snapshots of the nine movies. The showing times are listed at the end of this article.

The Set-Up stars Robert Ryan as an over-the-hill boxer who has too much integrity to take a dive. This 1949 slice of film noir, an unsparing look at the seamy underbelly of boxing, was directed by the astoundingly versatile Robert Wise who was equally at home in genres ranging from film noir to musicals. This movie kicks off the film series.

Fat City, filmed on location in the grittiest sections of Stockton, stars Stacey Keach as a has-been club fighter and Jeff Bridges as a young boxer dimly aware that he is destined to fall into the same rut. One of the later entries from the fabled director John Huston, the 1972 film is based on the novel of the same name by Leonard Gardner who wrote the screenplay. Former world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes and Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, appear in supporting roles.

On The Ropes follows the lives of three aspiring pro boxers from the crime-ridden Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and their worldly-wise coach. Winner of numerous prizes on the film festival circuit, the 1999 film by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Documentary” category.

Gentleman Jim, directed by Raoul Walsh, explores the fighting career of Jim Corbett, the heavyweight champion who bridged the gap between the bare-knuckle and gloved eras. The 1942 film, with Errol Flynn in the title role, has an interesting supporting cast. Yes, that’s William Frawley (Fred Mertz of “I Love Lucy” fame) playing Corbett’s trainer/manager Billy Delaney. Ward Bond, who starred in the long-running TV series “Wagon Train,” portrays John L. Sullivan.

The Fight, directed by the great African-American documentary filmmaker William Greaves, is an accounting of the first Ali-Frazier fight. The before and after sequences bookend the fight itself which is shown in its entirety without editing. Greaves’ minimalism, said the New Yorker film critic Richard Brody, is a cinematic coup. The closest thing to actually having been there, the film puts the viewer in the audience watching the great battle unfold.

Raging Bull needs no introduction. Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece with Robert DeNiro portraying Jake LaMotta with all his self-destructive warts is widely considered the best boxing movie of all time. Former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad appears as Blackjack Billy Fox in one of the fight scenes.

Boxing Gym is a fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed in Richard Lord’s no-frills boxing gym in a converted warehouse in Austin, Texas. In this 2010 film by Frederick Wiseman, the gym becomes an ecosystem where the inhabitants, male and female, exist in a loose community marked by a high degree of equality.

The Boxer and Death in German and Czech with English subtitles, is the only foreign language film in the bunch. The 1963 film by Peter Solan, set in a Nazi concentration camp, was inspired by the story of real-life Polish boxer Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski who was an Auschwitz survivor.

The Milky Way is a 1936 screwball comedy starring silent film star Harold Lloyd in one of his first talkies. Lloyd plays a Brooklyn milkman who knocks out an annoying drunk who, unknown to him, is the world middleweight champion. This ignites a series of events that culminates in him becoming the champ. The movie was directed by the great Leo McCarey, an award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer who cut his teeth with Laurel and Hardy shorts and went on to helm the Christmas classic “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby. (Leo McCarey was the son of Thomas “Uncle Tom” McCarey, the racetrack bookmaker turned fight promoter who introduced big time boxing to Los Angeles in the first decade of the twentieth century.)

The second screening of McCarey’s comedy, which wraps up the series on a light note, follows a talk by Dan Streible. Pioneers like Thomas Edison seized upon boxing as a way to commercialize the infant medium of motion pictures and Streible, author of “Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema” (University of California Press, 2008), is the leading authority on the subject.

SCHEDULE

THE SET-UP

August 18 at 7:15 PM
August 22 at 9:15 PM
August 24 at 7:00 PM

FAT CITY
August 18 at 9:00 PM
August 22 at 6:45 PM
August 23 at 9:15 PM

ON THE ROPES
August 19 at 4:15 PM
August 21 at 9:15 PM

GENTLEMAN JIM
August 19 at 6:30 PM
August 25 at 9:15 PM

THE FIGHT
August 19 at 9:00 PM
August 24 at 8:45 PM
August 26 at 4:00 PM

RAGING BULL
August 20 at 3:45 PM
August 23 at 6:30 PM
August 26 at 9:00 PM

BOXING GYM
August 20 at 6:30 PM
August 26 at 6:45 PM

THE BOXER AND DEATH
August 20 at 8:30 PM
August 25 at 6:45 PM
August 27 at 3:15 PM

THE MILKY WAY
August 21 at 7:15 PM
August 27 at 8:30 PM

DAN STREIBLE: FIGHT PICTURES
August 27 at 6:00 PM

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