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USA 1947
Directed by
Robert Rossen
104 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Body And Soul

Director Robert Rossen, screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and lead actor John Garfield were all brought before the HUAC hearings to testify about their Communist affiliations. Rossen and Polonsky were blacklisted. Garfield, who refused to name names was not but it affected his career badly and is held partly responsible for his early death. Born Jacob Julius Garfinkle on New York’s Lower East Side, Garfield was the real deal (apparently the character of Terry Malloy from On The Waterfront was written with him in mind) and he is well cast here as Charlie Davis, a tough kid from the slums of the Lower East Side, where his hardworking Jewish parents run a candy store. His mother wants him to get an education but Charlie wants the ready money he can get by boxing. He gets the money but, of course, at a price.

Although the productions values are strictly B-grade, the acting is not great and Garfield is too old for the role of  young amateur boxer (he was 34 at the time) the film is a telling exposé of boxing as racket (also well explored in Robert Wise's The Set-up if 1949), it in turn being a symbol of the destructive force of Mammon and the corruption by capitalist society on traditional family and community values.

Stylistically it has much in common with film noir with its taste for the seamy side of life, well captured by the photography of James Wong Howe, and has the typical moral opposition between good, represented by Charlie’s Mum (Anne Revere) and his sweet girlfriend, Peg (Lilli Palmer), and evil represented by gold-digging, nightclub floozie (Hazel Brooks) and a passle of low-lives. For the most part it carries its weight but it stumbles badly in the last round, giving Charlie a too-easy redemption that inexplicably has Peg, whom he had earlier ditched in a torrent of abuse, gushing with pride as he beats his opponent to a pulp, a too-obvious pandering to the film's working class audience.

The film won an Oscar for Best Film Editing for Robert Parrish (no doubt Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker studied the final fight scene for Raging Bull,1980) whilst Garfield was nominated as Best Actor and Polonsky for Best Original Screenplay. The two made Force of Evil together in 1948 with Polonsky directing but Garfield.died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 39.




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