Summer of Sports Films: The Champ

The Champ illustration by Jeff Schwartzbuer

The Champ – 1931

Dir: King Vidor | Starring: Wallace Beery (Oscar Winning Performance), Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich

Sport: Boxing

Review: Single parenting is tough and its even tougher when you are a drunk out-of-shape boxer living in 1930’s San Diego. Champ and his young son Dink (I can’t imagine its his real name) are trying their damnedest to get back on top but spill-outs keep pulling Champ into the ditch whenever he gets wind of a hot dice game or finds a nickel too close the barroom. Dink can only try and shove Champ in the right directions so much and is extremely forgiving of Champs constant broken promises and let downs. When Champ hits a hot streak and wins Dink a horse things appear to be on swing upwards. Dink takes the horse down to Tijuana for some races and impresses a wealthy couple in the stables with his confidence in his new horse “Little Champ”. Once the races begin the couple is shocked to see Champ at the race and that Dink is his son. The wealthy woman had abandoned Champ and her infant son years ago on the East coast after their love affair had ended. Now with a change of heart (and bank account) she now wants to be the mother she never thought she could be years ago. Dinks happiness is with his father but his safety and security would be with his newly discovered mother and Champ is put at a cross-roads whilst he is given the opportunity to show that he can still be Boxer he once was.

For subject matter that is extremely serious the film presents it all through a Lil’ Rascals filter. Their poverty has a real charm and Champs drunk escapades are usually some what comical and Dink just rolls with a “Aw, geez! Thats Champ for ya!” sort of attitude. Every sort of problematic situation is handled with a forgiving attitude and I actually never really found Dink to be in much danger and the kid doesn’t even have an ounce of interest in his newly found Mother. Obviously its no life for a child but you feel like its just a matter of time for Dink to be able to make it on his own or he will just run away from his Mother. Besides, considering Dinks age and it being 1931 — he’s going to WW2 either way. Best of luck, Dink! I would say the reason to watch the film is for Wallace Beery’s performance as the character “Champ”. While I am not sure I would say its Oscar Worthy, its unique and almost cartoon like — every movement is oddly exaggerated and his lines barked and drawn out. Its entertaining throughout.

This trailer really trys to hype up the emotional tension of the film which I don’t feel registers very well 80 plus years later.

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