Before I saw this movie, my knowledge of Gentleman Jim Corbett had been limited to a particularly audacious Bob Dylan rhyme in the song "Hurricane." (We're gonna put his ass in the stir/we're gonna pin this triple mur/der on him. He ain't no Gentleman Jim.) Nevertheless, I was quickly absorbed in this biopic chronicling the life of the famous 19th Century boxer. For those who need more to entrance them than Errol Flynn's near-constant shirtlessness, this tightly plotted film has plenty of action. Director Raoul Walsh (White Heat, High Sierra) keeps things moving along briskly, with fight scenes peppered liberally throughout the script.
Flynn plays a boxer so cocky and self-absorbed that in the climactic championship bout his main concern is that his hair not get mussed. In addition to fame and fortune, Corbett is also pursuing wealthy boxing patron Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith), who keeps promoting the up-and-coming fighter in hopes that he will get his ass kicked and learn his place already. He keeps winning, and eventually Ware realizes that Corbett differs from his nouveau riche "betters," a bunch of dirt prospectors and miners who got lucky in the Gold Rush, only in being a few decades more nouveau.
The Not So Quiet Man
In the meantime co-stars Alan Hale and Ward Bond steal all their scenes as, respectively, Corbett's scrappy Irish father and larger- than-life Irish rival, John L. Sullivan. Bond is particularly fun to watch; this character stands alongside his hilarious turn as a gambling, boxing-enthusiast priest in The Quiet Man as outstanding examples of his supporting work. Also in the mix is another The Quiet Man alum, Arthur Shields, who plays a gambling, boxing-enthusiast priest. Like The Quiet Man, this movie is funny, sentimental and wildly entertaining. What the later, better-known film has--and Gentleman Jim lacks is the romance. Flynn and Smith have nice-ish chemistry but their constant arguing is shrill and annoying. There's a fine line with these things, and usually it is the script that makes the difference. Give squabbling people amusing things to say, and you've got a Noel Coward play. Give them the script to Gentleman Jim and you're eavesdropping on the dysfunctional couple upstairs. But Smith and Flynn are so gosh-darned pretty that this shortcoming doesn't sink the film. Feel free to use the mute button, is my motto. The movie works as light entertainment and solid proof, if you needed any more, that Raoul Walsh could direct the heck out of an action scene.
The only thing I really learned about 19th Century prize fighting from Gentleman Jim, was that boxers favored sweaters over robes at one point in history. Several scenes show meaty, sweaty boxers with sweaters tied around their necks like 1980s yuppies.
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