The Boxing Filmography: American Features, 1920-2003
Briley, Ron, Film & History
Frederick V. Romano. The Boxing Filmography: American Features, 1920-2003. McFarland, 2004. 240 pages; $39.95.
Although sometimes referred to as the "sweet science," boxing is a brutal sport, which, nonetheless, enjoys considerable popularity in the United States and around the world. For many minority groups in the United States, such as the Irish, Jews, Italians, African Americans, and Latinos, boxing has offered a path to social mobility within a discriminatory culture in which more traditional business and educational alternatives are not readily available. It is also a favorite topic for intellectuals ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Norman Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates. Intellectuals seem attracted to the individualism of the sport in which the contestants must rely on their own skills, courage, and determination to survive. Filmmakers have also found prize fighting to be a rich source of drama in which to examine issues of race and class.
Accordingly, boxing historian Frederick V. Romano provides a valuable service to motion picture and sport historians with his filmography of one hundred American boxing titles from 19202003. Romano asserts that his list is comprehensive as the "overwhelming majority of boxing movies have been made in the United States" (1). His focus is upon films in which prize fighting is essential to the theme or the protagonist is a pugilist. The John Ford classic The Quiet Man (1954) would seem to fit within the parameters established by Romano, but the book includes no essay on the Ford photodrama. In addition, Romano does miss some important international features such as The Boxer (1997), featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, and the Czech film The Boxer and Death (1963).
While one may quibble about selections and criteria, Romano's work, drawing upon the resources of the New York Public Library, includes a brief synopsis of each film, production notes, and analysis of critical reviews. The essays on each film are well written and reflect the author's goal to emphasize the connection between actors and boxing. Evaluating the performance of Will Smith in Ali (2001), Romano states, "And while Smith failed to master all of the aspects of Ali's mercurial and often contradictory nature, he realized the importance of capturing Ali's voice-its rhythm, its tone, and its cadence" (9). …