Thursday, 29 July 2010

No.47 : The Champ (1979)

A real old sob fest next in the shape of ‘The Champ’ a remake of the family struggle boxing drama.

Jon Voight plays the titular pugilist who works as a horse trainer seven years after he last fought in a losing title fight. He has a cutesy pie son , TJ, and a passion for booze and gambling. An early chance at a comeback is lost when he decides to go drumming and boozing in what later turns out to be one of his better decisions.

Sad at letting his son down he makes amends by stealing his boy’s $20 savings and by heading off to the craps table. As Hollywood would have it he transforms the $20 into $6400 and gives his long suffering offspring a horse as a share of the winnings. The horse, as you’d expect, is a cracker and soon it’s running in a class one race. The young lad shows off his potty mouth and attracts the attention of society lady Faye Dunaway who turns out to be the lad’s mother.

The Champ is less than impressed at the mother being back on the scene seeing as she walked out on him and the boy years ago. She must be good in the sack or something because she now lives on a luxury yacht with a doctor and wants the boy back in her life. Keen to show he’s still an able father The Champ goes out and gets pissed and loses the boy’s horse in a card game. When the gamblers show up to collect The Champ shows off his punching skills but ends up in the pokey for his troubles.

He realises that the Mother ain’t so bad and tries to get the boy to go and stay with her. Unbelievably the boy gives up life on the ocean waves for The Champ’s hotel room and sozzled socker realises that the only way he can show the boy any kind of life is to get back in the ring, despite his ringing headaches (remember that!). After your typical boxing film training montage the big fight is set. TJ is ring side and the ex-wife takes on the Talia Shire role in the stand. Can The Champ regain his former glories? Or will his hard living catch up with him?

I was quite surprised by the gritty edges of ‘The Champ’. Yeah it’s sentimental and schmaltzy but the scenes of parental neglect were pretty full on. The Miami social services clearly got their training off Haringey Council as this was a care case if ever there was one. Voight was good value as the pished up puncher, complete with wide collared shirts and vacant looks.

The longed for happy ending is continually dashed with the horse falling over the least of the troubles for the blue eyed seven year old, who manages to idolise The Champ despite all the evidence staring him in the face. Faye Dunnaway is less good as the estranged Mother whose motivations aren’t really touched on. I think at the end we’re meant to like her but the feeling I was left with was that she’d managed to hook a rich hubby and thought she’s grab the boy for her entertainment.

The film is a bit long for what the plot contains, with the two hour running time at least five rounds too long. There is only one fight in the film but it’s well handled with some real brutality layed on for the baying crowd and crying child.

I’m not sure what conclusion we were meant to reach here but it wasn’t redemption from my angle - something like bad bitches come out smelling of roses would probably cover it. With the suspect ending the whole thing is a bit unsatisfying but as a whole the film is well played and mostly entertaining.

THE Tag Line : Ring Rusty Champ Wins On Points 64%

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