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Body and Soul
Often considered one of the greatest boxing films in Hollywood history, Body and Soul was one of the last major films from legendary actor John Garfield. Much like today's DeNiro or Pacino, Garfield was an accomplished actor who took diverse roles. Unfortunately, his career ended before its time.
Garfield stars as Charlie Davis, the middleweight champion of the world. As the film opens, we learn that his life has fallen apart. Davis has lost his best girl, Peg (Lilli Palmer), the respect of his mother (Anna Revere) and his best friend, Shorty (Joseph Pevney). While Charlie ponders the biggest decision of his life, the film flashes back to the beginning of his career and Davis must remember the deceit and treachery that has ruined his life. The audience learns about the dirty deals he has had to cut to become the champ and the friends he double crossed along the way.
Can Davis do the right thing when it is necessary? Can he escape from the hole he has dug for himself?
Abraham Polonsky's script is one of the finest of its time. Instead of giving the audience a simple, underdog-overcomes-the-odds story (like Rocky), Polonsky exposes the seedy world of boxing and the mob-like forces that control the sport. His hero is also a villain who has made many mistakes along the way as he was blinded by money and fame.
Garfield is fantastic as the naïve, up and coming boxer who becomes jaded as time goes by. His character starts off with good intentions, but the system eats him up and he must give up his ideals to get the championship he desires and deserves. Instead of fighting the system, he becomes part of it.
At a time when most actors and actresses were building career as matinee idols and romantic leads, Garfield was willing to explore the seedy side of life through groundbreaking film noir movies. He had two Oscar nominations and was poised for greatness. However, it was not meant to be.
In the early fifties, the United States House of Representatives established the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to root out supposed Communist infiltration of the government and Hollywood. One of its most famous members was a young, ambitious lawyer and Congressman from Yorba Linda, California who would use the committee to break onto the national scene - Richard Nixon.
The committee would subpoena members of the Hollywood elite, who had come under suspicion for their liberal or left wing ideologies. Little or no evidence was needed to implicate a suspect. When called to testify before the committee, suspects were asked to affirm or deny their affiliation with the Communist party and to name anyone who should also be suspected of Communist sympathies. Polonsky and Garfield refused to identify whether or not they were Communists and did not identify any other possible Communists, referred to as "naming names".
Both were blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to comply with HUAC, which meant they could not find any employment because studios did not want to be associated with Communists.
Garfield, who had started his own production company, was ruined. His career stalled, he couldn't get any financing to make more movies and was unable to get any acting roles. Already known for "having a chip on his shoulder", Garfield was full of rage after his career was destroyed by politicians who engaged in a witch hunt that he refused to play along with. He died of a heart attack in 1952. For years, many have suspected that he took his own life.
Although he had been a successful novelist, Body and Soul was Polonsky's first screenplay. He went on to direct Garfield in Force of Evil, the quintessential film noir. After that film, Polonsky was forced to go underground and continued to work under an assumed name. He became a script doctor and secretly wrote for television. He would not be able to use his own name until 1968 when he directed Robert Redford's Tell Them Willie Boy is Here. Sadly, Polonsky would only direct one more film.
Polonsky was one of the Motion Picture Academy of America's biggest critics when the organization decided in 1999 to give a lifetime achievement Oscar to acclaimed producer Elia Kazan. During the HUAC hearings, Kazan earned the scorn of Hollywood when he "named names", which destroyed the careers and lives of many of his friends and associates. Polonsky passed away in 1999.
Check out the greatest boxing movie ever, Body and Soul.
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Abraham Polonsky
John Garfield Charlie Davis
Lilli Palmer .... Peg
William Conrad Quinn
Hazel Brooks .. . Alice
Anne Revere .. .. Anna Davis
Joseph Pevney .. ... Shorty Polaski
Lloyd Gough .. ...Roberts
Canada Lee.. Ben Chaplin
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