Champion (1949)

Champion (1949)

“What you don’t know would fill a book — but you’ve got guts!”

A man (Kirk Douglas) and his brother (Arthur Kennedy) find work at a diner, where Douglas romances the beautiful daughter (Ruth Roman) of the owner but disappears when he’s forced by her father into a shotgun marriage. With the help of a retired trainer (Paul Stewart), Douglas works his way to the top of his game and eventually becomes famous — but will he alienate everyone he loves during his climb to success?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Boxing
  • Corruption
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Mark Robson Films
  • Ruth Roman Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “most boxing films contend that the sport corrupts individuals”, this classic — directed by Mark Robson, and “shot like a B-film in shadowy noir style by Franz Planer” — “contends that some individuals want to be corrupted”. Kirk Douglas stars as Midge Kelley — one of his “quintessential ‘heels'”, a “ruthless man who’ll do anything necessary, rub shoulders with anyone…, and step on friends and loved ones in order to get ‘people to call me mister‘.” Peary describes him as “the typical man in the American rat race, a scoundrel moving up in the business world” in which “boxers sell out their scruples to get ahead,” and “men such as Midge dupe the public into idolizing them and buying tickets to their fights.” In Alternate Oscars — where Peary gives Douglas the Best Actor Award — he adds that “Midge’s motivation isn’t so bad” and “we like Midge at times because he is protective of his brother, smothers his mother with kisses, and has guts enough always to get in the last punch, even when defeated.” In addition to Douglas’s fine central performance, Champion is noteworthy for its striking cinematography and a well-cast roster of supporting players, especially Kennedy as Douglas’s “lame” brother:

… Ruth Roman as a young woman who falls for Douglas’s charms before he makes a name for himself:

… Paul Stewart as a self-proclaimed “boxing addict” who agrees to help Douglas out.

… and Lola Albright as a sculptress who’s shocked to find that Douglas’s ambitions really do trump all else.

Note: To see Roman, Stewart, and Kennedy co-starring the same year in very different roles, be sure to check out The Window (1949).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kirk Douglas as Midge
  • Fine supporting performances

  • Franz Planer’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Douglas’s performance and as an all-around good show.


  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Champion (1949)

  1. Agreed; as an all-around good show, this is a once-must-see. As per my 4/24/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Tough guy, huh?”

    ‘Champion’ (1949): First, off… Kirk Douglas and Arthur Kennedy play a coupla guys named Midge and Connie. …[crickets]… Well, what the hell: In ‘In This Our Life’, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland play sisters named Stanley and Roy, so… Anywho… This is a fairly straightforward, road-to-fame boxing story. As such, it doesn’t hold many surprises for the first 2/3 but, thereafter, you can get ready for a few. What helps significantly is the package deal of Carl Foreman’s sturdy script (from a Ring Lardner story), Mark Robson’s alert direction, creative photography by Franz Planer… and a no-nonsense cast. Douglas’ persona doesn’t tend to change much from film to film (offhand, the only time I recall him being noticeably atypical is in ‘Lust for Life’) but, playing a boxer, he’s often surprisingly subdued… and he’s effective in his final scene. Kennedy is appropriately supportive as his brother. Midge is the kind of guy who only wants a woman he senses he has to (big surprise?) fight for. His three hurdles are: Lola Albright (as an easily seduced manager’s wife); Marilyn Maxwell (as a frigidaire cherchez la femme); Ruth Roman (in a wonderfully natural performance as someone unfortunate-enough to fall for Midge when he’s poor and proud).

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