Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gentleman Jim (1942)

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.


kate gabrielle said...

"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." -- That is SO true! I've seen so many movies try, and fail horribly, to pull off the cute bickering couple routine. It's a talent best left to masters like Noel Coward! :)

I'm so happy you're posting again!

Jennythenipper said...

Thanks, Kate. It's good to be back!

SteveQ said...

"The Quiet Man" is tied for my all-time fave film with "Witness for the Prosecution," so any comparison to it catches my attention. I've seen "Gentleman Jim" many times and it's an agreeable bit of fluff.

Is that Bill Frawley in that last photo? I don't remember him being in the cast.

Jennythenipper said...

Wow, Steve, I'd never figure your a Quiet man fan. One of my favorites as well. It was more than two stand-out Quiet Man alums in the supporting cast, there was something about the whole feel of the thing, the lightness of it and of course the raucous stereotypical Irish that reminded me of TQM. However without the beauty of County Mayo as a co-star and the almost Gothic grandeur of the romance, Gentleman Jim ins't in the same league by a mile. I just don't half wonder if John Ford didn't see this and think about recycling parts of it for his film.

Yes, that's Bill Frawley.

There's a better shot of him in this still:,%20Errol/Annex/Annex%20-%20Flynn,%20Errol%20%28Gentleman%20Jim%29_03.jpg

Sarah said...

Did someone say The Quiet Man? LOVE that film! Besides reading Hollywood's Hellfire Club, coming across the occasional quote from Olivia DeHavilland and telling people the origin of "In like, Flynn", I've never seen a full length feature of Flynns. I should correct that soon.

Jennythenipper said...

Yes, Sarah, do so as soon as possible. I recommend The Sea Hawk, Robin Hood or Captain Blood as well as Gentleman Jim. I've been watching Robin Hood a lot because my kid loves it. I should do a post on it. It's such a fun movie.

SteveQ said...

Among The Quiet Man's supporting cast is Jack MacGowran, my favorite character actor (he replaced Harry Dean Stanton, who I met... and well, never meet your idols, they say). So little Gentleman Jim here, so much Quiet Man!

Jennythenipper said...

I totally had to google MacGowran, Steve. Yeah, Feeney. I see that. And let's not forget Mr. Homeric himself, Barry Fitzgerald. This is making me think I'm going to have to do a complete TQM post. It's weird but I've written very little about my absolute favorite films. Corny and predictable, but I'll do a picspam for St. Patrick's Day.

SteveQ said...

I'm trying to come up with a clever name for a film blog, if I start one. My fave thus far: "The Sprocket Holes Looked Evenly Spaced." It comes from when I gave a movie a terrible review and I was asked, "Isn't there ANYTHING good you can say about it?"

Seems a bit long, though.

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Gentleman Jim is a great film for boys. I have 4 and they loved it. I especially pointed out how Corbin and Sullivan react to each other after the match. Both acted with class.

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