The Champ (1931)
“The knockout picture of the year!”
Director: King Vidor
Cast: Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich
Synopsis: Andy “Champ” Purcell is the former world heavyweight champion, now down on his luck and living in squalid conditions with his eight-year-old son “Dink” in Tijuana, Mexico.
The Champ is one of those movies that will always have an audience simply because of the warmth and belief in the human spirit that lies at its core. It’s impossible not to be moved by this movie, not only by the two big ‘tearjerker’ scenes (the prison scene, and the finale), but also by the relationship between washed-up ex-champ Wallace Beery and his blindly devoted son (Jackie Cooper). The affection between the pair comes across as genuine, and is never spoiled by being too sentimental. Pre-Hays Code, the pair are portrayed as loveable rogues with dubious morals (Beery only accepts one of his ex-wife’s cigarettes after Cooper assures him that he stole it), an important aspect of the movie that would surely have been lost had it been made a few years later.
Only the big fight looks dated. The action is speeded up (presumably to increase the excitement for a comparatively unsophisticated 1930’s audience), which creates the impression of watching a video game. Also, Wallace Beery looks more like Butterbean than Tyson or Lewis, but that’s a minor complaint that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of this wonderful movie.
(Reviewed 15th February 2002)