Body and Soul (1947 )

Director:

Robert Rossen

Cinematography by

James Wong Howe

Body and Soul is a 1947 American film noir directed by Robert Rossen, and features John Garfield, Lilli Palmer, Hazel Brooks, Anne Revere and William Conrad. The film, written by Abraham Polonsky, is considered the first great film about boxing;[by whom?] it’s also a cautionary tale about the lure of money—and how it can derail even a strong common man in his pursuit of success.

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The usual tale, told well

In many ways, ‘Body and Soul’ is a very typical Hollywood story. It has the ‘local boy makes it big’, the ‘vamp and the virgin’, the ‘corrupt businessmen’ and of course the final moral fight. However, James Wong Howe’s brilliant cinematography and John Garfield’s solid acting lift this movie above the norm. Every emotion is heart-felt, and the tension at the end is perfectly presented. One of the best boxing movies.

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Critical response

When the film was released, critic Bosley Crowther, praised the film, writing, ““Body and Soul has up and done it, with interest and excitement to spare, and we heartily recommend it in its present exhibition at the Globe … Still [Abraham Polonsky has] written his story with such flavor and such slashing fidelity to the cold and greedy nature of the fight game, and Robert Rossen has directed it with such an honest regard for human feelings and with such a searching and seeing camera, that any possible resemblance to other fight yarns, living or dead, may be gratefully allowed.”

  On the Set.

Cinematographer James Wong Howe on roller skates shooting BODY AND SOUL (Robert Rossen, 1947)

Cinematographer James Wong Howe on roller skates shooting BODY AND SOUL (Robert Rossen, 1947)

Film critic Dennis Schwartz discussed that the film had a definite sociopolitical point of view and praised Garfield’s work. He, wrote, “Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul becomes more than a boxing and film noir tale, as screenwriter Abraham Polonsky makes this into a socialist morality drama where the pursuit of money becomes the focus that derails the common man in his quest for success … Garfield is seen as a victim of the ruthless capitalistic system that fixes everything including athletic events, as the little guy is always at the mercy of the big operator. It’s the kind of liberalism that was common in the dramas made in the 1930s. It’s more a film about corruption and the presence of violence everywhere in America rather than a straight boxing film … Body and Soul viewed at this late date lacks much relevancy and now only seems gripping because of Garfield’s gritty performance, and not because of the intense script that once made waves in powerful circles.

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TV Guides review notes “The fight sequences, in particular, brought a kind of realism to the genre that had never before existed (James Wong Howe wore skates and rolled around the ring shooting the fight scenes with a hand-held camera). A knockout on all levels.

Blood, Sweat, and Soul in the Grandfather of the Boxing Genre…

10/10
Author: Donald J. Lamb from Philadelphia, PA
22 June 1999

If Jake LaMotta, the real life raging bull, ever went to the movies, he must have seen BODY AND SOUL a hundred times. It practically predicts the course of his career and the world of sports cinema, specifically boxing films. Robert Rossen’s 1947 black and white boiler is clearly an influence on ROCKY and RAGING BULL, along with countless other rags-to-riches sports stories with a hint of corruption. John Garfield, an actor I feel serves an audience more with his mere screen presence than his acting skills, is stunning as “Charley Davis”, the kid from New York who wants a shot at the title.

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Notice Garfield’s prudent girlfriend. Remind you of Adrian? (ROCKY) How about the mob boss who wants 50 percent of Garfield’s winnings? Remind you of Nicholas Colasanto from RAGING BULL? Of course. BODY AND SOUL is the altar of origin from which these films worshiped. Garfield dabbled in boxing off-screen until his untimely death in 1952 and appears like LaMotta, or De Niro, in many scenes. His temper can fly quickly and without warning. CHAMPION with Kirk Douglas and SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME with Paul Newman have taken some licks from this sensational film that roared like most of the best films of the 1940’s.

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Boxing is the ultimate sport to depict in film because such interesting character studies can come out of them. A boxer is, for the most part, alone. Other sport films seem to suffer because more has to be captured and the sport itself is usually portrayed poorly and unrealistic. Boxing takes place in a small ring, as does the life of most boxers (or so it seems). Director Robert Rossen is also a master at creating pictures where a flawed main character creates his own suffering and pain and has a fundamental misunderstanding of women. Just see Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING’S MEN or Paul Newman in THE HUSTLER.

No fight scene captures your attention until the pivotal final championship defense by “Charley Davis”. Will he throw it for the easy bucks or win it for pride and the adulation of his simple New York roots? It is very unapparent and hard to see coming. The authenticity of the climactic fight is made all the more powerful with its newsreel look and in-your-face photography and makeup. Credit cinematographer James Wong Howe for the realistic look and credit the blood and sweat of Garfield, writer Abraham Polonsky, and director Rossen to bring such a captivating story of corruption and glory to the screen.

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More A Human Interest Story Than A Boxing Tale

8/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
9 October 2005

I looked at this as simply a good story, a solid drama that happened to have the sport of boxing figure into it. “Boxing movies.” if people insist on labeling this under that category, were particularly popular around the time of this film. Many of them had similar stories about a good guy being told to take a dive or else. Yes, that was in here, too, but it wasn’t anywhere near the central part of the story. This film was more of an earlier “Raging Bull”-type tale in that it concentrated on the friends, family, freeloaders, criminals and women surrounding the main male character.

This was more of a story about a decent man who gets carried away with success and with the power and money that goes with it. As good as the lead actor, John Garfield, was in here – and he was good – I was more intrigued with the supporting characters.

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Lilly Palmer looked and sounded the part of a refined sweet, pretty French girl (whatever that means) and was a good contrast to the uneducated and quick tempered brute (Garfield). As in so many stories, she wasn’t fully appreciated by her man until the end. Anne Revere, as Garfield’s mom (she seemed to always play the lead character’s mother in 1940s films) was fascinating as she always was and kudos to Joseph Peveny as “Shorty” and Lloyd Gough a “Roberts.” Both added a lot to the film. Wlliam Conrad and Hazel Brooks added some great film noir– type dialog, berating each other once in a while.

These actors, and the photography of James Wong Howe, make this a cut above most if not all the so-called “boxing films.”

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Great ’40s film starring John Garfield

9/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
22 April 2008

John Garfield is a fighter taken over “Body and Soul” in this 1947 Faustian drama about a man who becomes too heady with success and too greedy, eventually signing on with a crooked fight promoter. Garfield is supported here by Lilli Palmer, Anne Revere, Hazel Brooks, William Conrad, Canada Lee and Lloyd Gough.

American filmmakers love boxing movies, and why not? It’s a one on one brutal action sport that has inherent in it good drama because of what is at stake for people who most likely came from nothing and used their fists on the street. “Body and Soul” is no different in this regard, but it’s one of the best of its kind. It also boasts an unusual and exceptionally talented cast.

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BODY AND SOUL, John Garfield, 1947

The film is loaded with conflict for Charlie Davis (Garfield) – his mother (Revere) doesn’t want him to fight; he’s in love with Peg (Palmer) and wants to marry her but is talked into delaying it when he signs on with a new and corrupt promoter, Roberts (Gough). This will be the first of Charlie’s concessions and unfortunately not the last. He fights Ben (Lee), but isn’t told that the man has a blood clot and he needs to coast through only a few rounds. Instead, he pulverizes Ben, causing further brain damage, and takes him on as a trainer out of guilt. Then he’s seduced by a money-hungry babe named Alice (Brooks). And on and on, until Roberts bets against him and orders him to take a dive in the championship fight he’s been waiting for. (With all the films done about taking dives, anyone who bets on a fight is nuts.) Something about this movie – maybe it’s the theme song, which is one of my favorites – swept me away. It’s one of Garfield’ most colorful performances, and the beautiful, classy Palmer is a perfect juxtaposition not only to the streetwise Charlie but the trashy Alice.

The truly transcendent role and performance is essayed by Canada Lee, a wonderful actor who died too young and had too few opportunities in film. His performance as the volatile, ill Ben was Oscar-worthy. Like Ben Carter in “Crash Dive,” the fact that Lee is black does not enter into the script at all, and he is treated as an equal.

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For all the rotten stereotyping done in films at that time, there were a few scripts that defied it. Lee was blacklisted and died in 1952 (the same year that John Garfield died), at 45, almost literally of a broken heart. He left a legacy of five films and some wonderful stage work, including Orson Welles’ all-black Macbeth. Cast members Garfield, Lee, Anne Revere, Lloyd Gough, Art Smith, Shimen Ruskin, scriptwriter Abraham Polonsky and producer Bob Roberts would all find themselves blacklisted, and director Rossen would be threatened but admit to being a Communist and name names.

Magnificently photographed in black and white by James Wong Howe and with top direction, “Body and Soul” is an example of how wonderful film can be.

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I Fell For You, Body And Soul

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
28 July 2008

Body and Soul was the first of several free lance productions that John Garfield did after his contract with Warner Brothers was concluded. He certainly didn’t take any artistic chances because the role of Charlie Davis, the Jewish middleweight boxing champion from the Lower East Side of New York was something Garfield could identify with. He’d played a fighter in his second film, They Made Me A Criminal to great acclaim. And he’d appeared in the original production of Golden Boy though not in the lead. He’d be doing that on stage at the time of his demise in 1952.

But while Body and Soul didn’t blaze any artistic trails for Garfield, it did give him a great role that earned him a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Garfield lost to Ronald Colman that year in A Double Life.

Hazel Brooks;John Garfield

Actors Hazel Brooks and John Garfield in scene from film, Body and Soul. (Photo by Bob Landry//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Garfield has the feel for the heart and soul of Davis because that was his background. Another reviewer suggested that the Davis character is based on the famous lightweight champion Benny Leonard who would have been a hero to a Jewish kid like Julius Garfinkle growing up first on the Lower East Side and then in the Bronx. Leonard also died around the time Body and Soul was being made and movie audiences would have known that and the film would have a special poignancy for them.

The story is told in flashback as Charlie Davis dozes off in the training room before a defense of his middleweight crown. He’s in a depression about the death of someone named Ben.

Ben turns out to be Canada Lee former champion himself who was Garfield’s trainer. We see how Garfield who at first listened to his mother Anne Revere not to fight, but then when father Art Smith dies, economics forces him into the ring. Garfield gets involved with two women, artist Lilli Palmer and nightclub singer Hazel Brooks.

He also gets involved with a manager who eventually turns on him in William Conrad and a sleazy promoter in Lloyd Gough. If you’re a fan of boxing films I think you can figure out where this will all end up.

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But the ride is a good one. Besides Garfield’s nomination, Body and Soul got another Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay by Abraham Polonsky. And it won the Oscar that year for Best Film Editing. That’s for the great work in that department during that final boxing match.

For fans of John Garfield, Body and Soul is a must. Besides all that there’s that great Johnny Green-Edward Heyman song from the Thirties that got a revival because of this film.

Down but not out

7/10
Author: Martin Bradley (MOscarbradley@aol.com) from Derry, Ireland
27 January 2008

This boxing picture deals with the seedier side of the business; (is there any other?). It helps that it was written by Abraham Polonsky whose script is suitably cynical and hard-boiled. John Garfield is the pugnacious fighter easily swayed by the prospects of easy money and not adverse to taking a dive. It’s a fine, hard-nosed performance. Garfield was always at his best in roles that required him to battle with his conscience.

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The whole movie is well cast. The under-rated Lilli Palmer is fine as the ‘nice’ girl who loves him as is Hazel Brooks as the ‘bad’ girl who seduces him while the villains are ably taken care of by Lloyd Gough and William Conrad. Best of all there is Anne Revere as Garfield’s mother. (Did Revere play everybody’s mother movies?). It’s another of her no-nonsense roles. Revere was one tough cookie who kept her heart of gold well-hidden. The climatic fight scene is very well staged and Robert Parrish and Frances Lyon’s editing won the Oscar while James Wong Howe’s cinematography adds considerably to the realism.

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