Is it written somewhere that a director has to make a film about boxing? So many of them have. Back in 1927 the so-called “sweet science” was a different sort of thing than it is now. It seems that everyone was interested in it, from the lower classes with brawls held in toilets, through the middle class, right up to the hoity-toity seated at ringside. Today boxing still exists, and at the upper levels there are high-rollers who attend the Vegas match-ups, but I get the impression that the real blood-thirsty classes are more into that ultimate fighting shit, where nothing is prohibited but biting and eye-gouging. The middle class largely ignores the whole thing. But still we get boxing movies.
Well, just musing there. Hitchcock not only directed this one, it is the only time he got sole screen credit for writing one of his movies, and it’s a bit of a mystery to me why he did it. It’s a completely standard story of a scrabbling fighter taking all comers at a carnival sideshow, then working his way up to the championship fight. His sweetheart marries him when he starts to be successful, but she plays around. He gets into a grudge match with the boxer she is seeing, and she has a change of heart when he is getting the shit pounded out of him, goes to his corner, and love revives him. He kayos the other pug, and they live happily ever after. That’s how to win a girl, with your fists. Yuck.
It’s a lot more interesting—and a bit shocking—for its portrayal of the times. The carnival features a “dunk the nigger” tank. Everybody is having a gay old time trying to drop this darkie into the water, and two kids come along and start pelting him in the face with eggs. Everybody thinks this is hilarious, including a cop. Later, the guy’s manager tells him “If you can get past this nigger, you can have a shot at the title.” On the other hand, one of the men in his corner, one of his friends, is black, one of the few black faces I can recall in any Hitchcock film.
But the high point is the last twenty minutes, the Big Fight. That’s odd, because I generally don’t enjoy seeing the matches in boxing movies. This one is great because it’s the only place where you see the Hitchcock touch, with cutting, camera angles, and some nice trick photography when our boy is staggering on the ropes. It is meticulously staged, with every detail of the preparations and the rituals between rounds. It gets quite intense, and is the only point in the movie when I was actually involved.