“Money’s the answer — I can get it fighting, no other way.”
A gifted violinist (William Holden) disappoints his father (Lee J. Cobb) when he pursues a career as a prizefighter in order to earn money for the family. While an ambitious manager (Adolphe Menjou) and his loyal girlfriend (Barbara Stanwyck) — who Holden falls for — do what they can to keep Holden in the game, their influence is limited when a local gangster (Joseph Calleia) wants a piece of the action.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that while “four writers ‘Hollywoodized’ Clifford Odets’ gritty play,” the “story retained much of its original power and its anti-boxing message”, adding that “this is a prototypical boxing film in that it’s about a decent boy from the ghetto who is hardened by the boxing business and his striving for materialistic gain” — though in a twist, the film “doesn’t have the boxer’s girlfriend try to get him to quit the ring”. Peary argues that the “film is schmaltzy, Cobb is overbearing as the music-loving papa, and there isn’t enough fight atmosphere”, but it “never loses interest” given that “Rouben Mamoulian’s direction is satisfactory” and “newcomer Holden, looking handsome and energetic, and the fetching Stanwyck, who took him under her wing, are an appealing screen couple”. Meanwhile, making the film look fantastic are “two of the best” cinematographers, Nicholas Musuraca and Karl Freund. However, while there’s much to commend about Golden Boy, it’s not quite must-see viewing. Cobb’s over-the-top portrayal quickly has us annoyed rather than sympathetic for his plight: indeed, Holden’s choice of boxing over music makes sense as a way for him to distance himself from stifling parental expectations, thus complicating our sense of what, exactly, we should be hoping for as the outcome for this gifted yet conflicted young man.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Barbara Stanwyck as Lorna
- William Holden’s earnest portrayal in his breakthrough role as Joe
- A fine supporting performance by Calleia
- Nicholas Musuraca and Karl Freund’s cinematography
No, but it’s certainly worth a look for its historical importance.