Kid Galahad (1937)

Synopsis:

Boxing manager Nick Donati (Edward G. Robinson, Key Largo) and his girlfriend Fluff (Bette Davis) take shy bellhop (Wayne Morris, Brother Rat) under their wings and make him a boxing sensation. Trouble arises when both Fluff and Nick’s kid sister, Marie (Jane Bryan, Marked Woman), fall for the prizefighter.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“It seems I’m always ringside at the first fight… and the last.”

Back in 1937, Kid Galahad was considered one of the best sports movies ever made. Film Daily magazine wrote that the movie was “easily one of the best fight pictures ever screened.” Time hasn’t been as kind to the film, though — it isn’t as well regarded as other boxing movies like Body and Soul (1947) and Champion (1949).

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca and Mildred Pierce) from a screenplay by Seton I. Miller (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Francis Wallace (The Wagons Roll at Night), this boxing melodrama is far from perfect, but it is entertaining and well-made — the boxing matches are extremely well-staged and edited.

The film’s cast is particularly impressive. The script is good, but it is secondary to the performances. Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Harry Carey (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) in one film? Are you kidding me? Give me more of that! These extraordinarily good actors alone make Kid Galahad fun to watch.

Davis’s Fluff is not what you’d call a challenging role. Davis does a good job, no question about it, and she looks nice. However, Robinson has the best role in the film, and I think she knew it — Davis tries to ramp up her game a bit in order not to get swept away by her co-star’s dynamic performance.

Interestingly, Davis and Robinson didn’t get along (Davis and Bogie weren’t crazy about each other either). They do make a nice screen couple and it’s too bad that they didn’t make more movies together. Pre-stardom Bogie plays a super-nasty gangster — he shoves Davis so hard in one scene that she loses her balance — and his scenes with Robinson are charged with high tension.

Newcomer Wayne Morris plays the title character but he is overshadowed by the legendary actors. Contemporary critics predicted a bright future for Morris, but he never became a star. The cast also includes Frank Faylen (Detective Story), Soledad Jiménez (Bordertown) and William Haade (Union Pacific). Kid Galahad was nicely shot by Tony Gaudio (Anthony Adverse and The Life of Emile Zola).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

While I wouldn’t call it a classic, Kid Galahad is an enjoyable combination of gangster cliches and sports drama. Reworked in 1941 as The Wagons Roll at Night (with Bogart in Robinson’s role) and in 1962 as an Elvis Presley musical. It was shown on TV under the title The Battling Bellhop to avoid confusion with the Presley movie. B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.

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