The Great John L.


1h 36m 1945

Film Details

Release Date
May 25, 1945
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Bing Crosby Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,668ft

Synopsis

In 1880, young John L. Sullivan rejects an opportunity to play baseball for the Boston Red Soxes and instead chooses to become a boxer, much to the chagrin of his father Michael. At a church social, Father O'Malley, the parish priest, publicly questions the morality of professional boxing, but, privately, he fully supports John. That evening, John proposes to his childhood sweetheart, Kathy Harkness, but she questions their future together. After winning his first fight in New York City, John, called "The Boston Strong Boy" by the sportswriters, pronounces that "I can lick any man in the world." Richard Martin, a newspaper publisher, then arranges a match between the little-known John and top-ranked boxer John Flood, which the Boston fighter easily wins. While training for his championship fight against Paddy Ryan, John attracts the interest of Anne Livingstone, a singing star from the New York stage. Upon becoming the undisputed bareknuckle champion of the world, John returns to Boston, only to be rejected by Kathy, who openly questions his character. On the rebound, John marries Anne and begins drinking. Despite his new training companions--champagne and ale--John remains undefeated and travels to London, where he meets Edward, the Prince of Wales. Back at home, however, rumors persist about trouble in the Sullivan marriage, which Anne denies to Richard. John and Anne then travel to Paris, where he defeats Monsieur Claire, a French kickboxer, in a barroom fight. Back in Boston, the alcoholic John opens his own tavern, to the concern of Flood, who has become his friend and sparring partner. On his wedding anniversary, a palm reader tells John that he is "a very lonesome man," then privately tells a waiter that the boxer is in love with another woman. After finding a picture of John with Kathy, Anne, too, realizes that John is not in love with her, and after meeting Kathy, Anne offers to divorce John if Kathy agrees to marry him. Despite Kathy's refusal, Anne leaves John, and the fighter turns more and more to the bottle. John's alcoholism causes him to lose his championship to James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, and he retires from the ring. Later, after failing as an actor and a boxing referee, a penniless John is sent by Richard to visit the dying Anne, who insists that he return to Boston and Kathy. When his saloon is repossed, Kathy proposes to John herself, but he rejects her, believing that she is asking out of pity. Having reached the bottom, John finally recognizes his drinking problem, "his personal demon" as Father O'Malley calls it, and swears off drinking. The ex-champion then becomes a speaker for the temperance movement and is reunited with Kathy.

Film Details

Release Date
May 25, 1945
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Bing Crosby Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,668ft

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

This was the first film produced by Bing Crosby Productions, Inc., an independent film production company owned by the noted performer. According to a May 1944 Hollywood Citizen-News news item, producer Frank R. Mastroly was once a New York City sportswriter who had written numerous columns about boxing champion John L. Sullivan. After purchasing the film rights to the boxer's life story, Mastroly convinced producer-writer James Edward Grant, a one-time Chicago sportswriter, to write the screenplay. Grant, in turn, showed the script to Crosby, his neighbor, who liked it so much that he formed his own company to produce it. According to Hollywood Reporter, Phoenix financier Del Webb, a close friend of Crosby, was also involved in backing this production. A May 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that actor William Bendix was being considered for a role in the film. According to the Variety review, Greg McClure was an unknown stage actor who was also working as a longshoreman and a day laborer when he was cast by Crosby in the lead, and that he was drafted into the U.S. Army upon the completion of The Great John L. According to Hollywood Citizen-News, actor-singer Lee Sullivan, a distant cousin of John L. Sullivan, who made his screen debut in this film, was cast after Crosby was told of his singing talent by fellow crooner Paul Whiteman.
       Hollywood Reporter news items include Alec Harford (Bartender), Leslie Denison (King Edward VII), Ben Carter, Marek Windheim Dick Curtis, Odette Myrtil, Eugene Borden, Brian O'Hara, Dewey Robinson, Edwin Maxwell, Wyndham Standing, Barry Norton, Frank Patrick Henry, Kenneth Gibson, William Nind, Leslie Sketchley, Jack Beery, Stuart Hall, Adrienne D'Ambricourt, Sherry Hall, Chester Conklin, Eddie Kain, Ray Cooper and Guy Bellis in the cast, but their appearances in the released film have not been confirmed. Fourteen "former ring stars"-Ace Hudkins, Frank Moran, Freddie Steel, Bob Perry, Charlie Sullivan, Frankie Dolan, Phil Bloom, Larry Williams, Jack Perry, Bing Conley, John Condi, Bert Keyes, Sammy Shack and "Gentleman" George Delmont-also were cast, according to Hollywood Reporter. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items also include Ed Gargan in the cast, but his participation in the released film is doubtful. According to a July 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, Art Foster was cast as English heavyweight champion Charlie Mitchell, but his scenes were cut from the released film. As depicted in the film, John L. Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan in 1882 to win the undisputed bareknuckle championship of the world. Sullivan is credited by many sports historians for greatly improving boxing by touring the United States, fighting all challengers in regulated matches fought with gloves under the Queensberry rules. In 1892, Sullivan fought James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett for the world's heavyweight championship and lost in the 21st round by knockout. Though defeated, Sullivan retired having never lost a bareknuckled fight. Actor Ward Bond portrayed Sullivan in the 1942 Warner Bros. film Gentleman Jim (see entry above).