The best punch trackers on the market
20th August 2020
By: Andrew Rihn
Boxing and movies have gone hand-in-hand ever since audiences saw Bob Fitzsimmons KO Gentleman Jim Corbett with a blow to the solar plexus in 1897. High in drama and low in cost, boxing has been a staple subject for the movie industry, from Body and Soul to Requiem for a Heavyweight, from Rocky to Raging Bull. The movies I review, however, won’t be appearing on any Top 10 lists. Or any Top 50, for that matter. But what these B-movies lack in name recognition, they more than make up for with their blunt charisma, their quirks, and their unexpected cameos. These are the sometimes-forgotten pictures that shaped the genre we know today. Join me in rooting for these cinematic underdogs as we explore some of boxing’s Not Quite Classics.
DON’T MISS WHYTE VS POVETKIN ON DAZN!
Becoming a movie star is in some ways comparable to becoming a star in boxing. A journeyman fighter is out to prove his reliability by delivering consistently strong performances in the ring. At the same time, he wants to differentiate himself by demonstrating his range, seeking out opponents who will stretch him: a tall opponent or short, an in-fighter or a sharpshooter, orthodox or southpaw. A young actor similarly wants to deliver consistently strong performances and take on a variety of challenging roles – say, a Deaf welterweight contender for instance.
Flesh and Fury from 1952 offered the young Tony Curtis such an opportunity. Not yet a star, Curtis was grinding out picture after picture, looking to stand out from other would-be leading men. The role of boxer Paul Callan was a lead role, and also a difficult one. The character, who is Deaf, is mute for two-thirds of the movie, meaning Curtis’s performance would have to be subtler, more nuanced to bring this welterweight contender to life. The picture hinges on Curtis’s performance and ultimately, he delivers.
Flesh and Fury opens with Callan fighting for $25 purses when he gets noticed by manager and trainer “Pop” Richardson, who agrees to take Callan under his wing. Paul also catches the eye of the beautiful Sonya, whose shrieks and cries during Callan’s fights more than illustrate the lust in bloodlust. She seduces Callan, but will only marry him if and when he becomes champion. She initiates a campaign to push him into a title fight too quickly, against the wishes of Pop and without regard for Callan’s safety.
Sonya’s character – manipulative and gold-digging, sexual, and a little unhinged – is contrasted by Ann Hollis, an even-keeled reporter from an upper-class background who wants to write a story on Callan. The Freudian notion of the Madonna-whore duality is a prevalent trope in many mid-century boxing pictures. Its prevalence would die out, or at least wane, after 1976’s Rocky, with the notable exception of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.
Flesh and Fury really leans into the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. While Sonya squeals in ecstasy at the sight of blood from ringside, Ann turns away, unable or unwilling to watch Callan get hurt. Attracted only to the violence and the money, Sonya is repulsed by the fact that Callan is Deaf, referring to him derisively as “dummy.” By contrast, Ann is understanding. Her father is Deaf, and Ann speaks American Sign Language, allowing her to communicate more directly with Callan.
Callan eventually decides to see a doctor about a surgery that can restore his hearing. It is a success, although he receives a warning that taking punches to the head could jeopardize his hearing. He then begins the difficult process of adapting to a Hearing world, including learning how to speak aloud.
As Callan begins training for his title fight against a man named Logan, he finds it difficult to adjust to training with so much sound. The sound of the speed bag ruins his timing and rhythm. He looks so bad in training that Sonya places a substantial bet on Callan to lose. When he enters the ring, the sound of thousands of fight fans breaks his concentration. He takes a pounding from Logan, but then, late in the fight, his hearing fades out, and he is able to make a comeback and win the title. Sonya is ruined but Ann is thrilled. As Callan leaves with Ann, his hearing returns, and with it the implication that they will live happily ever after together.
Flesh and Fury benefits from some substantial and well-crafted fight scenes. The director, Joseph Pevney, had appeared in 1947’s Body and Soul, and also previously directed one boxing picture, a more-than-competent remake of Todd Browning’s Iron Man. His knowledge of how to effectively film a fight is on full display here and coupled with the gifted acting and natural athleticism of Tony Curtis, makes for a couple of exciting and relatively believable fights. Curtis would play a boxer again in 1955’s The Square Jungle, while Pevney would go on to direct a string of Star Trek episodes, including “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Beyond the acting and choreography, Flesh and Fury ultimately succeed because it approaches the subject of Deafness not as a didactic “message movie” nor as a fetishizing “exploitation film.” It manages to humanize without preaching or capitalizing on its subject matter. A surprisingly strong boxing drama about a Deaf welterweight, 1952’s Flesh and Fury is a mostly-forgotten little gem.