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Just as his boxing career appears to be cresting, self-assured, tough guy boxer Johnny "The Brooklyn Kid" Rocket (Arthur Kennedy) is determined to begin a new life for himself, far from the ring. Aware of the mangled minds and bodies that result from too many fights -- and losses -- Johnny has decided to leave the pugilist's life behind in the Warner Bros. boxing drama Knockout (1941).
"I'm getting out while I'm still healthy. I'm not going to end up to be a punch-drunk stumble bum," Johnny tells his new boxing manager Harry Trego (Anthony Quinn), who has bought out the boxer's contract without realizing retirement was on Johnny's mind.
With his new wife Angela Grinnelli (Olympe Bradna) in tow, Johnny heads for a promising new future as an exercise coach to out of shape wealthy ladies at an upstate health farm. "I'm going to be somebody!" Johnny tells Angela of his dream to eventually save up and open his own health farm.
But Harry Trego has different plans. Johnny is Harry's gravy train and he's not too anxious to see his meal ticket retire from the game. From behind the scenes Harry begins to pull the strings that will ensure Johnny returns to the ring to earn Trego the fortune he expects. He begins by making sure Johnny loses his first job at the Skyline health club. A series of setbacks soon follow. Eventually Johnny returns to the ring and Harry's clutches, never realizing how he wound up back in the game.
And there's even more trouble ahead for Johnny. He attracts the attention of a wealthy newspaper reporter, Gloria Van Ness (Virginia Field), who is intrigued by the handsome fighter. Johnny's obsession with Gloria finally drives Angela away. Johnny begins to neglect his training, alienates his manager and fans and is eventually accused of fixing a fight. His reputation shot, he goes incognito on the road as "Kid Williams" on second and third bill bouts, drowning his sorrows in drink and teetering close to becoming just the kind of punch-drunk stumble bum he always feared. "That's funny. I forgot how to untie my shoelaces," he says after an especially disastrous K.O.
Knockout is a notable B-picture for its gritty depiction of the real perils of boxing, shown in the pre- and post-fight locker room scenes where fuzzy headed, ruined fighters with broken noses and nowhere left to turn continue on the same disastrous boxing circuit.
Directed by William Clemens, Knockout features an array of memorable performances, including a fragile, heartbroken performance by French-born, Folies-Bergere dancer Olympe Bradna as the Mulberry Street girl with a convent education. However, Bradna's French accent suggests she comes from more exotic stock than Italian-American.
A character actor with real range, Arthur Kennedy brought his long experience playing cynical tough guys to his performance as the rough and tumble Johnny Rocket in Knockout. Though Kennedy was nominated 5 times for Academy Awards, he was equally adept on the stage, including a notable appearance in the late 1940s in two Arthur Miller plays: "Death of a Salesman," for which Kennedy won a Tony Award, and "All My Sons."
Kennedy was said to have been discovered by James Cagney on the Los Angeles stage and his screen debut was playing Cagney's brother in City for Conquest (1940). He began first as a Warner Bros. contract player and soon moved into more substantive roles, including 1949's Champion for which he received his first Oscar nomination alongside Kirk Douglas.
Born Antonio Rudolfo Oaxaca Quinn in Mexico to an Irish father and Mexican mother, Anthony Quinn went on to capitalize on his distinct heritage. Before his 2001 death from throat cancer, Quinn fathered 13 children and played a variety of character roles and ethnic types from gangsters to American Indians, from Arab sheiks to Greek peasants. After a screen debut in 1936, his career finally picked up after he appeared on Broadway as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
At one point before his film career took off, Anthony Quinn won a scholarship to study alongside famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who eventually became a friend.
Quinn had the unique distinction over the course of his nearly 60 year acting career and some 100 films of appearing with a record number of Oscar® winning actors and actresses.
Quinn himself won two Academy Awards, for Best Supporting Actor in Viva Zapata! (1952) and Lust for Life (1956). Quinn was also memorable in several European productions, including his strongman Zampano character in Italian director Federico Fellini's Best Foreign Film Oscar®-winner La Strada (1954) and in one of his most famous roles, as a salt of the earth peasant in the film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel Zorba the Greek (1964). Quinn's first directorial effort, The Buccaneer (1958) was an unfortunate and not to be repeated attempt at an alternative career.
Director: William Clemens
Producer: Edmund Grainger and Bryan Foy
Screenplay: M. Coates Webster from a story by Michael Fessier
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Production Design: Stanley Fleischer
Music: Mann Curtis, Sanford Green, Cliff Hess, Howard Jackson, William Lava
Cast: Arthur Kennedy (Johnny "The Brooklyn Kid" Rocket), Anthony Quinn (Harry Trego), Olympe Bradna (Angela Grinnelli), Virginia Field (Gloria Van Ness), Cliff Edwards (Sleepy).
by Felicia Feaster