Classic Film Guide

Golden Boy (1939)

Thanks to Barbara Stanwyck, who believed the young actor could pull off the title role, William Holden burst on the screen as violinist Joe Bonaparte (his star making role) with a talent for boxing which is exploited by the promoter-manager Tom Moody (Adolphe Menjou); he uses his mistress-assistant Lorna Moon (played by Stanwyck) to seal the deal by seducing the would-be prizefighter. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian who also co-produced with William Perlberg, based on the play written by Clifford Odets with John Garfield (Four Daughters (1938); he later played a boxer in Body and Soul (1947)) in mind for the lead, with a screenplay by Lewis Meltzer, Daniel Taradash, and Sarah Mason & Victor Heerman (who's shared an Oscar for adapting Little Women (1933)), this boxing drama also features Lee J. Cobb as Joe's working class Italian and disapproving (of the prizefighting) father, Joseph Calleia as the stereotypical gangster, Eddie Fuseli, who wants to buy Joe's contract from Moody, Sam Levene as Joe's brother-in-law Siggie, and Edward Brophy plays Roxy Lewis. Victor Young's Score received an Academy Award nomination. Though pretty sappy, especially by today's standards, it's still a wonderful time capsule movie which entertains. Cobb as Mr. Bonaparte who loves his son's violin music (for which he'd skimped and saved to afford), Joe as the boy who disappoints his father by deciding to become a fighter (even though he's successful at it), then frets about ruining his hands; ultimately, he's swayed by the lovely Lorna, who has her doubts about what she's done to him when the crime boss Fuseli bullies his way into a piece of the action.

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