Cast & Crew
In New York City, Charley Davis, the middleweight champion of the world, wakes up from a nightmare screaming the name "Ben," then visits his mother, telling her that Ben died that day. After his mother bitterly tells Charley to leave, Charley sees Peg Born, his ex-girl friend, and although he kisses her, she falls limp, weeping on her bed. Charley, who is scheduled to fight an important match the next day, enters a nightclub where singer Alice performs, and gets drunk. Charley's manager, Roberts, tells Charley he must go fifteen rounds and win the fight by a decision. Charley then recalls his early days as a boxer: After winning his first amateur bout, Charley meets Peg, a beautiful, free-spirited painter living in Greenwich Village, and they fall in love. Charley's father, who owns a candy store, is killed when a bomb is thrown into a nearby speakeasy. Although Charley's mother hopes he will get an education, he is determined to be a fighter, and Peg encourages him. Promoter Quinn arranges a series of bouts for Charley, which he wins. After a year on the road, Charley, who has become cocky and is driven by money, returns to a swank apartment in New York and affectionately greets Peg. Roberts, who runs the fighting racket in New York, decides to set up a fixed fight between Charley and the black "champ," Ben Chaplin, who is suffering from a blood clot in the brain. Roberts' scheme is to tell Ben that he and Charley will go fifteen rounds and that the bout will end in a decision, rather than a knockout. Charley is not told that Ben is ill, and Roberts cruelly says that the audience loves a killing. Later, Roberts goes to see Charley at his apartment, where Mrs. Davis is waiting for the boxer with Quinn and his girl friend, Alice. When Charley shows up with Peg, she is wearing a new dress and mink coat, having spent the afternoon drinking champagne. Although Charley's manager, Shorty Polaski, warns Peg to marry Charley immediately before he becomes a pawn of the mob, Roberts offers to help Charley win the championship and make him a wealthy man if he gives Roberts fifty percent of his take, fires Shorty, and postpones marriage. Shorty is suspicious of Roberts' conniving ways, but Peg lovingly agrees to put off her wedding. The night of the fight, Charley beats Ben repeatedly in the head and wins the title. After the fight, Ben's manager, Arnold, whom Roberts had double-crossed, protests to Roberts that Ben will undoubtedly die, but Roberts merely comments that "everybody dies." Later, as Peg and Charley celebrate in a bar with Roberts, Shorty tells Charley that he did not win fair, but foul, and that Roberts is the only one who won the fight. When Shorty then quits in disgust, Roberts coldly informs him that he had been getting only a handout from Charley. Shorty exits the bar, and Peg runs after him, but one of Roberts' thugs beats him up, and Peg runs for Charley's help. Charley rescues Shorty, but dazed, Shorty walks into an oncoming car and is killed. Peg then gives Charley an ultimatum: stop boxing or lose her. Charley breaks his engagement with Peg and wins a series of fights, becoming both richer and more careless. He begins dating Alice and buying her expensive gifts, then gambles away the rest of his winnings. Ben recovers, and Charley makes him his trainer. After years of holding the title, Charley is set to fight newcomer Jackie Marlowe, in a fixed fight: fifteen rounds and a decision. Jackie will win, and Charley will get $60,000, money he will use to bet against himself in the match. Alice, meanwhile, is hoping to share in Charley's fortune. Charley, however, visits Peg and, telling her he is about to fight his last fight, asks her to marry him. While Charley sleeps, Peg deposits his $60,000 in her bank account, unaware that he needs it to bet on the fight. At his mother's apartment, a grocer tells Charley that while the Nazis are killing Jews in Europe, Charley's old neighborhood is proudly placing money on Charley, whom they look up to with pride. Charley bitterly tells his mother and Peg that the fight is fixed, then demands his money back from Peg, accusing her of loving him for his money like everybody else. Hurt and enraged, Peg slaps Charley and leaves. While Ben trains Charley, he tries to convince him not to throw the fight. Roberts overhears and fires Ben, but Ben resists Roberts' orders and, in a frenzy of rage, pummels the air and falls dead. During the big match, after several rounds in which neither Charley nor Jackie are displaying any effort to fight, Jackie starts beating on Charley, and he realizes he has been set up by Roberts, just as Ben was. Charley fights back and wins the bout with a knockout. As he exits the ring, Roberts tries to warn Charley he will not get away with double-crossing him, but Charley says, "What are you gonna do, kill me? Everybody dies." Peg then rushes into his arms.
Edward J. Boyle
Gunther V. Fritsch
Joseph C. Gilpin
John W. Green
James Wong Howe
Marion Herwood Keyes
Francis D. Lyon
Gustaf M. Norin
Best Writing, Screenplay
Body and Soul - John Garfield in the 1947 Boxing Drama, BODY AND SOUL
Garfield, born Julius Garfinkle on Manhattan's Lower East Side, came by his tough-guy persona honestly. As a boy, he was passed to relatives in Brooklyn after his mother died, then moved to the Bronx when his father remarried. His street cred was enhanced by skirmishes with police during his teen years as a street gang member. To the trained actors of The Group collective, he brought an eruption of fresh energy, rough-edged authenticity, and an impossible-to-miss New York accent. Like that other New York street kid star, Jimmy Cagney, he came out swinging. Body and Soul - Johnny Green's title song remains a classic - also testifies to Garfield's persistence. Garfield, a Group Theater member who knew Odets from their Bronx days and appeared in Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing, was envisioned by Odets as the lead in Golden Boy. But Luther Adler got the part, with Garfield assigned a supporting role. In 1939, when Columbia filmed Golden Boy, Warners, to whom Garfield was under contract, refused to loan him to Columbia. So the role went to William Holden - his breakthrough.
By 1947, dark-haired, rugged, sexy Garfield was at the top of the heap, having starred in such diverse hits as Destination Tokyo (1943), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947), the last attacking anti-Semitism. So back he climbed into the Hollywood ring with Body and Soul. Under Robert Rossen's direction, with a script by Abraham Polonsky, it crackles with tabloid energy as Garfield's Charley Taylor, traumatized by the shooting death of his father in the family's candy store, is determined to punch his way out of the tenement he shares with his mother (a sterling Anne Revere) and KO his way to the top despite her strong objections. If Garfield wasn't such a raging force of nature, Revere's stoical mother would dominate the film. Her moral compass never swerves. "Fight for something, not for money," she says, sternly. But Charley explodes when a welfare worker visits with questions. No handouts for him, he yells, chasing the welfare worker away. Then he fights for money.
And not just for purses. He quickly learns that the real money in boxing lies with gambling, and hands himself over from a local promoter, Quinn (William Conrad), to a bigger operator, Roberts (Lloyd Gough). Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he takes a dive. Either way, the money flows in. He becomes champ, KOing en route the ex-champ Ben Chapin (Canada Lee). He wasn't told that Chapin had sustained a blood clot near his brain in his previous fight, and shouldn't have been facing Charley at all. Later, feeling guilty and ashamed, he hires Chapin as a sparring partner at his training camp, with dire results. The film in fact is framed as a story that begins when Charley is awakened by a nightmare while asleep on the porch in his camp, drives off in his roadster to the city, and muffles his anguish with drink, getting little sleep on the eve of his championship fight against a brash challenger. That climactic fight scene, when he climbs into the ring for the big fight, having been ordered to throw it, brings the story back to the present.
The black and white film deals in blacks and whites, theme-wise. Charley's ultimate fight is to regain his soul and integrity after carelessly exchanging both for fame and money because he didn't think he had a choice. He gets plenty of help, almost too much, in this regard. Apart from Revere's moral beacon - she's a rock against which wave after wave of corruption splashes ineffectually - Charley has two other would-be moral guardians - Joseph Pevney as his boyhood pal, Shorty, who also sides with the angels, and Lilli Palmer as his love interest. The ever-charming Palmer, retaining a trace of the accent of her native Germany, surpasses the limited contours of the role of the woman who loves Charley no matter what, but is given little to do besides hanging out with Charley's mother, hoping he'll come to his senses.
Conrad brings something almost entertainingly greasy to the role of the small-time promoter, Quinn. Hazel Brooks leaves no intention unturned, and no siren song unsung, as Quinn's mistress, trying to make her own leap into the big time on Charley's broad shoulders. Director Rossen deals in haymakers, not subtleties. His heavy directorial hand is aided mightily by cinematographer James Wong Howe, who wore roller skates during the fight scenes and had an assistant push him around to impart fluidity. Robert Parrish's editing achieves fluidity in the fight montages. More than once, one feels Howe and Parrish do more than Rossen to project the gritty street poetry in Abraham Polonsky's screenplay.
But Garfield's magnetism and ability to project openness, decency and idealism, however tarnished, elevate Body and Soul to the level of its lofty ambitions. Garfield paved the way for fellow New Yorkers Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and, before them, outsider icons James Dean and Marlon Brando. And he was brave, putting his convictions on the line by hiring Canada Lee, then in disfavor owing to the witch hunts of the House Un-American Committee. Garfield and his left-leaning colleagues, many from his Group Theater days, were raked over the coals by HUAC. Body and Soul cast and crew members Garfield, Revere, Lee, Gough, Art Smith, Shimon Ruskin, and Howe ran afoul of HUAC and were blacklisted or greylisted, as was producer Bob Roberts. Rossen named names, as the committee demanded, and was unscathed. Garfield declared that he never was a Communist, but refused to name names (if he had, his wife, Roberta Seidman, would have been one of them). Still, his brushes with HUAC hurt his career, to say nothing of his scarlet-fever-damaged heart. Body and Soul is one of a dozen films that attest to his impact. He deserves to be more widely remembered.
For more information about Body and Soul, visit Olive Films.
by Jay Carr
Body and Soul - John Garfield in the 1947 Boxing Drama, BODY AND SOUL
Body and Soul (1947)
Star John Garfield had lost the lead role in Clifford Odets' Broadway boxing drama Golden Boy in 1937 despite Odets having written the role with him in mind. Shortly afterwards, Garfield went to Hollywood, signed a contract with Warner Brothers, and became a star in Four Daughters (1938). When the contract ended in 1946, Warner Brothers offered Garfield a new fifteen-year contract but he turned them down. Instead he started his own film company, Enterprise Studios. His first project: a boxing drama based on the life of Barney Ross, the middleweight champion who became a hero in the U.S. Marines, turned to drugs, and fought his way back.
The boxing theme was okay with the censors but any mention of drug addiction was then forbidden. Forced to fictionalize the story, screenwriter Abraham Polonsky devised his own; a fighter rising out of the Jewish ghetto of New York City and going along with the gangsters for a taste of the big money even if it means betraying everyone he loves. To direct, Garfield chose Robert Rossen, another Warner Brothers veteran who had just directed Johnny O'Clock (1947). As for Garfield's original plan to do a film about boxer Barney Ross, United Artists developed it into a movie biography in 1957 entitled Monkey on My Back. The director was Andre De Toth and it starred Cameron Mitchell as Ross.
Garfield pushed himself to the limit for authenticity, suffering a mild heart attack while exercising in one scene and knocking himself out when he collided with a camera boom while filming a fight with former welterweight fighter Art Darrell. This last injury gave him a head wound that took six stitches to close.
It was no wonder Garfield ran into camera equipment. Cinematographer James Wong Howe was not content to park his camera ringside. He got into the ring on roller skates, holding a 16mm camera while an assistant pushed him into the action. Said Howe, "I wanted an effect where the boxer is knocked out and he looks up into a dazzle of lights; with a heavy, fixed camera, you'd never get that."
Body and Soul opened to rave reviews and huge box office returns. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times said, "Altogether this Enterprise picture rolls up a round-by-round triumph on points until it comes through with a climactic knockout that his the all-time high in throat-catching fight films." Garfield was nominated for Best Actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as was Abraham Polonsky for his screenplay. Francis Lyon and Robert Parrish won the Oscar for Best Editing.
However, the success of Garfield's Enterprise Studios was short-lived. A self-professed "lifelong Democrat," Garfield hired Hollywood liberals and leftists and quickly became embroiled in the witch-hunt for Communists in Hollywood. Garfield, Polonsky, Rossen and Body and Soul actors Anne Revere and Canada Lee were all called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Their names were added to Hollywood's blacklist and their careers were either long-delayed or ended. Unable to get work in the last two years of his life, Garfield died in 1952 at the age of 49.
Producer: Bob Roberts
Director: Robert Rossen
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky
Art Direction: Nathan Juran
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Costume Design: Marion Herwood Keyes
Film Editing: Francis D. Lyon, Robert Parrish
Original Music: Hugo W. Friedhofer, Edward Heyman
Principal Cast: John Garfield (Charlie Davis), Lilli Palmer (Peg Born), James Burke (Arnold), Anne Revere (Anna Davis), Canada Lee (Ben Chaplin), Mary Currier (Miss Tedder), Hazel Brooks (Alice), Joe Devlin (Prince), William Conrad (Quinn).
By Brian Cady
Body and Soul (1947)
What are you gonna do? Kill me? Everybody dies.- Charley Davis
To get a more fluid camera movement in the boxing ring, cinematographer 'James Wong Howe' filmed the fight while holding the camera and being pushed by an assistant as he wore roller skates.
The working title of this film was The Burning Journey. According to the Hollywood Reporter review, the picture was based on an original story by Barney Ross, which star John Garfield had purchased in 1945. The reviewer commented that Ross's story was "practically thrown out the window." Ross's contribution to the final film, if any, has not been determined. [For information on the 1957, Andre DeToth-directed film Monkey on My Back, which was based on Ross's life, please consult the entry below.]
Although some modern sources identify Garfield's character, "Charley Davis," as Jewish, in the film his character is never identified as such. The neighborhood in which Charley and his mother "Anna Davis" live is multi-ethnic, but at one point in the film, the grocer says that while Nazis are "killing Jews in Europe," the neighborhood is betting on Charley, of whom they are proud.
Body and Soul marked Garfield's first independent picture, and according to modern sources, he was greatly involved in all aspects of the production. Contemporary news items in Hollywood Reporter add the following information about the production: Professional boxers Mickey Walker, Benny Leonard and Jack Dempsey were sought for roles, and actors Caryl Lincoln, Ethelreda Leopold, Forbes Murray and Al Eben were cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Frank Gaskin Fields was hired to write two songs and background music for the film, but his contribution to the final film also has not been confirmed. Three film crews were sent to fight arenas in twenty-six cities around the country to shoot boxing footage for the picture.
Cinematographer James Wong Howe used eight cameras to film the fight sequences: three placed on cranes for bird's-eye shots of the ring, three mounted on dollies and two hand-held cameras to provide a newsreel effect. Some location filming was done in New York City. Modern sources add that Garfield took sparring lessions from boxer Mushy Callahan to prepare for his role and performed all his own fight scenes. Garfield was knocked out and injured during the filming of one of his fight scenes, according to modern sources.
An early December 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that production on the film was held up for two weeks due to censorship problems. Information contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that early drafts of the script were deemed "unacceptable" under the provisions of the Production Code due to, among other things, excessive violence and the inclusion of a suicide, which was later removed from the script. A letter contained in the PCA file, dated January 4, 1947, indicates that the Breen Office demanded an entire sequence in which a white boxer fights an African American boxer be cut from the script. The stated reason for the deletion was that the Production Code did "not permit any scenes showing the social intermingling of white and colored people or of a boxing contest between two people of these opposite colors."
The film garnered much critical praise, with the boxing sequences receiving particular notice. The Daily Variety review commented that "seldom has the camera caught such exciting ring sequences," while the New Yorker reviewer proclaimed the fight scenes "marvellously realistic." The casting of African American actor Canada Lee, who had been a middleweight boxing champion in the 1930s, was also lauded. Reviewers noted the timeliness of the film's subject matter. In appraising the picture's earning potential, the Variety review commented that the "widely-ballyhooed N.Y. State Boxing Commission probe of bribery last winter, gives 'Body' a strong box office chance." In September 1947, according to a Hollywood Reporter article, Charles Johnston, president of the Boxing Managers' Guild, petitioned Enterprise Pictures, Inc. to withdraw the film from distribution, claiming that it was "slanderous" in its depiction of boxing managers, and that it characterized managers as "thieves, gangsters, fixers, contrivers [and] doublecrossers." According to the Hollywood Reporter article, David L. Loew, president of Enterprise, refused to withdraw the film or make any changes to it.
According to a 1953 Daily Variety article, Bank of America, a Roberts Productions creditor, assumed control of this and Roberts' next film, Force of Evil (see below), after Roberts failed to repay outstanding loans. According to Daily Variety, Roberts borrowed $1,000,000 from Bank of America to make this film. In October 1947, shortly after the release of this film, Garfield was accused by California State Senator Jack Tenny of being a Communist sympathizer. Garfield later refused to supply the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) with a list of suspected Communists, and was subsequently blacklisted. Director Robert Rossen, actors Anne Revere and Canada Lee, and screenwriter Abraham Polonsky were also blacklisted in the 1950s for their political views. (For more information on the HUAC hearings, see the entry below for Crossfire).
Francis Lyon and Robert Parrish received an Academy Award for Best Editing for their work on the picture. Garfield was nominated for Best Actor, and Polonsky was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Some modern critics describe Body and Soul as the quintessential boxing film. Garfield reprised his screen role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast version of the story, which aired on November 15, 1948. In 1981, George Bowers directed Leon Isaac Kennedy, Jayne Kennedy and Muhammed Ali in Body and Soul, a Golan-Globus Productions film that was loosely based on Polonsky's screenplay.