By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Amateur boxer seeks fame.
While Jon Voight is best known in the world of boxing movies for having done The Champ in 1979, which some consider infamous, his first go-around was actually this one though it remained stuck on the studio shelf long after it was filmed only to be released after his success in Midnight Cowboy. He plays the character of Vic (Jon Voight) a talented, good-looking man whose shown ability in the amateur ring and now is ambitious about making the Olympic team. Arty (Ned Glass) takes him under-his-wing, even lets him stay at his place, while he trains him, but then all of sudden Vic decides he doesn’t want to be a boxer anymore, to the shock of everyone, and never bothers to give anyone any explanation as to why.
The script was written by Charles Eastman, who also directed, and who was the brother of Carole Eastman, who wrote the script for Five Easy Pieces under the pseudonym of Adrien Joyce. Like with his sister’s script it works as a character study and the story is broken up in sections, in this case ‘The Manly Art in Six Rounds’. At various times, usually every 10-minutes, a title will appear on screen such as ‘Round 1’, or ‘Round 2’, but honestly I didn’t see the point and it doesn’t really make it more interesting and could’ve easily be discarded and probably should’ve been.
On the writing end, particularly the dialogue, it works. Eastman creates a conversational quality where what the characters say is never ‘too on the nose’ (screenwriter’s lingo for being too specific) and the viewer must read into it in order to understand what they mean. In that area the film works, but it’s also highly talky and begins to have a stagnant feel. There’s also very little about the actual sport of boxing. If you’re expecting something like Rocky where there were long segments dealing with the his preparation you’ll be out of luck here. I got particularly frustrated with the scene dealing with Vic getting ready for a contest where he’s seen standing around while other participants and fans enter into the arena, which gets drawn-out, and then just as the fight is supposed to begin it cuts away showing Vic on the phone describing what happened, but to have to sit through a long build-up just to see no action is a letdown.
There finally is some boxing about 50-minutes in and the choreography in the ring, with each participant getting some hits on the other, appears realistic though there’s no blood, or bruising. What makes this segment unusual is more what occurs amongst the audience where one of the spectators, played by Noble ‘Kid’ Chissell, a former professional boxer from 1924 to 1934, begins to masturbate underneath his raincoat, which he has over his lap, which becomes painfully obvious to the other people around him. Why this was put-in I don’t know. It’s not clear either whether he’s getting-off on the two boxes, or his attraction is to one of the pretty ladies in the audience (I’d presume it was the boxers), but such a bizarre character doing such a strange thing in public needed better fleshing-out and quite frankly more screentime as cringe or not I found his appearance to be one of the few diversions and far more intriguing than the main star.
Seeing a young Anne Archer, who looks almost like an adolescent here, this counts as her film debut since it was filmed before either The Honkers or Cancel My Reservation, which were both released earlier, is a pleasure though her character doesn’t have a lot to do. E.J. Peaker is quite good as Vic’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, who has a memorable bit inside a recording studio as she attempts to boost her singing career. Jeanne Cooper, better known for her work on ‘The Young and Restless’, which lasted for 5-decades, is quite striking. The best acting though goes to Ned Glass, who is engaging as the foul-mouth manager who spews the F-word seemingly non-stop.
The ending in which Vic gets on a helicopter and is cheered on by his fans and supporters who gather to see him off is the film’s best moment. It’s not like anything super exciting happens, but the location, filmed in the hills just outside of Vacaville, California, where the grass is dark brown, but the trees that dot the landscape remain green gives-off a surreal effect. It goes on for a full 20-minutes all in this vast brown countryside with characters running around in it and at certain points even sliding down the hillsides. The unusual topography leaves a lasting impression and I’ll give props to the filmmakers for taking full-advantaged of it and the one element that allows this otherwise sterile production to stand-out.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: October 24, 1973 (Filmed in 1970)
Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
Director: Charles Eastman
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video