Flesh and Fury, The Square Jungle, World in My Corner: none of the three boxing melodramas contained in Kino’s tenth volume of film noir offerings ever reach the heights of the great boxing noirs: Body and Soul, Champion, or The Set-Up, but they’re still worth seeing.
The Production: 3.5/5
Boxing: “the sweet science,” “the manly art of self-defense”; it’s been the focal point of more movies than that of any other sport in the history of cinema. From the silents up through the 21st century, the compelling encounter of two people facing off against one another in single combat continues to be a hinge upon which dynamic screen narratives can be drawn. In Kino’s tenth volume of Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, three lesser-known movies from the 1950s in which boxing forms a fulcrum of the drama are finally being released in high definition. Though only vaguely noirish in tone and more melodramatic in structure, Flesh and Fury, The Square Jungle, and World in My Corner offer, at least in the first two cases, human interest sagas revolving around fisticuffs that present characters not often seen in other fight films of the era.
Flesh and Fury – 3.5/5
Hearing impaired boxer Paul Callen (Tony Curtis) is rising fast in the ranks of welterweights, spurred on by gold-digger Sonya Bartow (Jan Sterling) who has latched herself on to the potential champion with dreams of everything his fame and money can bring her. Dedicated trainer Pop Richardson (Wallace Ford) thinks Sonya is pushing Paul too hard toward the championship before he’s ready, but Paul is eager, too, to make it to the top. He gets momentarily sidelined when he meets journalist Ann Hollis (Mona Freeman) who comes from a deaf family and can use sign language to communicate with Paul, understanding the challenges he faces in the world outside the ring. Slowly but surely, Paul’s affections begin to shift from the grasping Sonya to the earnest Ann making him eager to share her world by possibly having an operation to restore his hearing and in learning how to speak, but entering a world of sound is going to be challenging to his concentration with the fight against the world champion (Ron Hargrave) looming.
Bernard Gordon’s screenplay offers most unusually a contrast between Paul’s highly focused skills in the ring while hearing impaired and his problems with coping there when the noise of the fight and the yowling crowd disrupt his concentration and throw off his timing unmercifully. Journeyman director Joseph Pevney uses montages to show us Paul’s training and later a successful tour that makes him the number one contender. He also handles just fine two lengthy contests: stepping up in class with an experienced dirty fighter (Bruce Richardson) and the championship fight which climaxes the movie. In the latter, with his restored hearing, Paul is pretty much a punching bag for a large portion of the bout, a match which clearly would have been stopped when seven or eight unanswered punches lay him out on a couple of occasions (a scenario which forms a major plot point in Curtis’ next boxing movie The Square Jungle), but here it’s a knockout or nothing, and his recuperative powers are nothing short of astronomical. Tony Curtis doesn’t speak for the first hour of the film but handles himself well in and out of the ring. Jan Sterling’s Sonya is clear with Paul from the first that she’s in it for the money, but as her jealousy builds over his growing feelings for Mona Freeman’s sweet but bland Ann, she becomes shrewish and vindictive. Wallace Ford’s thoughtful, loving trainer is a welcome contrast to Sterling’s scheming, and Connie Gilchrist is on hand to add a homey atmosphere as well. Harry Guardino appears early as Paul’s brother but then disappears oddly from view.
The Square Jungle – 3.5/5
Aimless grocery clerk Eddie Quaid’s (Tony Curtis) lack of prospects makes the odds of winning the approval of his girl friend’s (Pat Crowley) father rather hopeless, so he goes into boxing as a means of livelihood and making a name for himself. Backed by Jim McBride (Paul Kelly) and trained by ex-fighter Bernie Browne (Ernest Borgnine), Eddie spends three years rising to the top of the middleweight ranks fighting under the name of Packy Glennon, a ring name once used by his father (Jim Backus). Champion Al Gorski (John Day) is a tough ring veteran, and he and Packy engage in three classic brawls which leave both men near their breaking points for very individual reasons.
The indelible three-fight series between middleweights Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano seems to have been at least part of the inspiration for George Zuckerman’s screenplay and for the centerpiece of this film: the three bouts between Gorski and Glennon. Staged by Frankie Van (who also laid out the fights in Curtis’ previous boxing film Flesh and Fury but with more to work with here) and with in-your-face direction by Jerry Hopper, these are three of the most ferocious on-screen fights in the entire history of cinema up to that time with the tide ebbing and flowing constantly within each match and the winner always in doubt. Tony Curtis’ Eddie/Packy is a much more complex character than the boxer he played in Flesh and Fury, full of cocky pride and insufferable arrogance who must learn the hard lessons about being a man outside the ring as well as inside. In the year when he won the Best Actor Academy Award for Marty, Ernest Borgnine offers here a thoughtful, introspective take on an ex-pug, and Jim Backus’ alcoholic father trying to stay on the wagon for his son is likewise excellent. John Day as champion Al Gorski, who had taken beatings aplenty in previous boxing films like Whiplash, Champion, and even Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, gets his best on-screen chance as the battered boxer and makes the most of it. Pat Crowley is amenable but mostly negligible as Eddie’s main squeeze while Leigh Snowden as the resident blonde floozy who seems to be part and parcel of all fight films is even more forgettable as Lorraine Evans.
World in My Corner – 2.5/5
Lower class workman Tommy Shea (Audie Murphy) takes occasional club flights when he wants to earn a few extra dollars, and he’s seen at one by former trainer Dave Bernstein (John McIntire) who offers to train him if he ever wants to enter the prizefighting profession. After losing his job at a tanning factory, Tommy is all in coming to be financed by Bernstein’s employer industry magnate Robert T. Mallinson (Jeff Morrow). Mallinson’s beautiful daughter (Barbara Rush) and Tommy are attracted to one another right away, but in order to provide for such a wealthy girl’s needs, Tommy realizes he’s got to fight for big money in New York where many great arenas and television coverage originates. But organized crime controls the Big Apple fight game headed by Harry Cram (Howard St. John) whose number one contender Al Carelli (Chico Vejar) is next in line for a title shot. He offers Tommy a warm-up fight for big bucks against his boy if Tommy agrees to take a dive. Tommy must continually weigh his options: a future with big money fights if he plays along with the mob or remain an honest fighter who will need to box for two or three years to make the kind of money he’s being offered by Cram for a single match.
Though undoubtedly the most noir of the three films contained in volume ten of Kino’s Film Noir series, Jack Sher’s screenplay contains every cliché of the fight film rolled into one with very little originality to go with it: slum kid who takes up boxing to open doors to higher society (and to win a woman with fancy tastes) and tempted by the money and fame to throw fights for the mobsters who own him. Though once again staged by Frankie Van (with an assist by Tommy Hart who plays former boxer/now mob enforcer Stretch Caplow), the fights here, including two against Chico Vejar’s Al Carelli, aren’t nearly as interesting or exciting as those in The Square Jungle, and director Jesse Hibbs doesn’t manage to produce the same kind of visceral thrills that the fights in Flesh and Fury and especially The Square Jungle contained. Audie Murphy is certainly game to trade punches with some real-life fighters, but he doesn’t make the most convincing movie boxer. Barbara Rush’s character is tormented by her wealth, a not well thought out psychological hang-up, and is thus rather an afterthought as a character. John McIntire does strong work with his clichéd venerable sage trainer while Jeff Morrow is just all right as the entrepreneur attempting to pull all the strings. Howard St. John is a very one-dimensional gangster, and Tommy Rall, heretofore a musical mainstay in films like Kiss Me Kate and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, seems to be from another planet as the fast-talking sharpie trying to be Tommy’s manager.
3D Rating: NA
Flesh and Fury (5/5) is framed at its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio (AVC codec for all three films). The image is excellent with superbly contrasted grayscale and no age-related nicks or scratches to mar the image quality. The Square Jungle (4/5) offers a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (the liner notes say 1.78:1, but it’s clearly letterboxed) and features good sharpness and detail in the images. There are more dust and speckles and nicks here, however, than in the previous transfer in the set. Grayscale is very good with especially rich black levels. World in My Corner (3/5) at 1.85:1 has the most problems video-wise. There are little nicks and dings throughout and an occasional scratch, but the major problems are with contrast and sharpness. It’s never really detailed with much of it dated in appearance, and some sequences are too heavily contrasted or overly bright and look simply all wrong in the viewing. The movies have all been divided into 8 chapters.
All films offer sound mixes in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Flesh and Fury (4.5/5) offers robust fidelity with no audio artifacts betraying its age, and the background score by Hans Salter is surprisingly lush for a boxing picture. The Square Jungle (4/5) has a solid sound design, but there are moments where some soft hiss is present. Hiss is also around for some of World in My Corner (3.5/5), and its fidelity is a little less impressive than the other films in the set.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentaries: Flesh and Fury offers a commentary by filmmaker Daniel Kremer which is among Kino’s lesser contributions. He goes off on tangents discussing careers of some of the film’s participants instead of concentrating on the movie itself. Wallace Ford and Connie Gilchrist, two notable character actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, aren’t even mentioned, and there isn’t much to be gleaned from the comments he does make about the movie. Film historian Eddy Von Mueller provides the commentaries for both The Square Jungle and World in My Corner. They, too, are rambling commentaries that sometimes stray quite far from the film on-screen though World in My Corner offers the better of the two commentaries with more attention to the on-screen events and people. While an endless listing of credits for certain members of the cast and crew might be interesting for some, one would rather have some pointed analysis of the film being shown. (He also errs in mentioning that writer Ben Hecht was paired with Burt Lancaster in his production company when it was actually Harold Hecht who was his partner, and when was a regulation boxing round only 90 seconds as he asserts? They’re twice that length.)
World in My Corner Theatrical Trailer (2:14, HD)
Kino Trailers: The Midnight Story, Some Like It Hot, Female on the Beach/Naked Alibi, The Web, The Vikings/To Hell and Back, Ride a Crooked Trail.
Flesh and Fury, The Square Jungle, World in My Corner: none of the three boxing melodramas contained in Kino’s tenth volume of film noir offerings ever reach the heights of the great boxing noirs: Body and Soul, Champion, The Set-Up, but as films that have been seldom seen since their production almost seventy years ago, they’re worth a look especially for avid fans of fight films.
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