Cast & Crew
Having followed the career of world-famous boxing champion Joe Louis from the time he began fighting in Detroit, sportswriter Tad McGeehan sadly writes the story about his friend's final defeat in New York in 1951. His story begins in 1932, when Joe, known then as Joseph Louis Barrow, was a teenager living in Detroit: One day, while walking home from his violin lesson, Joe's pal, Johnny Kingston, talks him into using the money for his violin lessons to take boxing lessons. Though he comes home with a black eye after his first boxing lesson, Joe returns for more lessons, and soon shows great promise as a fighter. Joe's mother eventually discovers that he is not using the money she gives him for violin lessons, but she gives him her blessing to continue boxing when he promises to study it with all his heart.
In 1934, after winning the Golden Gloves title in Detroit and Chicago, Joe is signed to a contract by manager Julian Black. In the same year, Joe begins training with Jack "Chappie" Blackburn, who puts him on a rigorous training program and teaches him the fighting techniques he will need to be a champion boxer. Following a string of winning fights, Joe returns to Detroit, where promoters Mike Jacobs and Johnson, who represent Madison Square Garden, compete for his contract. Joe shows little interest in the contract negotiations, as he is distracted by the beauty of Marva Trotter, a young woman from Chicago. Joe is introduced to Marva, and she tells him to look her up the next time he visits Chicago. After signing with Jacobs, Joe arrives in New York for his first fight there. A romance blossoms between Joe and Marva, and they are soon married. The wedding celebration is cut short, however, when Chappie reminds Joe that he must fight Max Baer. Joe wins by a knockout in the fourth round, then takes his earnings and goes on a wild spending spree. Joe's overspending soon leads to mounting debts, and his new cockiness eventually shows its ill effects in the ring.
After a loss to German fighter Max Schmeling leaves Joe badly beaten, he shamefully admits that he did not do his best to prepare for the fight. He vows to resume his training and spends the next two years preparing for a re-match with Schmeling. Joe is further motivated to claim a victory over Schmeling when McGreehan tells him that Hitler is counting on Schmeling's win to support his theory of Aryan superiority. Joe finally gets his wish in June 1938, when he knocks out Schemling only minutes into their fight.
Six years after their wedding, Marva, unable to bear being married to the big-time fighter, sues Joe for divorce. Joe, however, refuses to grant Marva a divorce, and instead works to repair their broken marriage. In the years that follow, Joe fights his way from one victory to another, and when war breaks out, he joins the Army as a private. Joe suffers an enormous loss when Chappie dies, and he names Mannie Seamon to replace him as his trainer. Following the war, Joe returns home to Marva and their new daughter, only to discover that he owes thousands of dollars in back taxes. Forced to return to the ring to pay his debts, Joe again loses the love of Marva, who files for divorce. After finally paying off his debts, Joe announces his retirement from the ring, but rumors soon circulate that he is planning a comeback. McGeehan urges Joe not to return, and tells him that he would only suffer embarrassing losses if he did. Joe ingores McGeehan's sage advice and, in 1951, returns to the ring for one last fight. Rocky Marciano's victory over Joe serves as the last episode in McGeehan's story about the champion fighter's career.
Carl Rocky Latimer
P. Jay Sidney
Ellis Larkins Trio
Walter Chrysler Jr.
William F. Joyce
The Joe Louis Story
Using Louis' final bout, the failed 1951 comeback fight against Rocky Marciano, as its starting point, the screenplay flashes back to his teen years in Detroit, where young Joe (Coley Wallace) is cajoled to spend his violin lesson money on boxing lessons. His mother (Evelyn Ellis) is unhappy when she finds out, but she accepts and encourages him to give it his best effort. The young natural soon attracts notice, becoming the state's Golden Gloves champ, and turns pro by 1934 under the tutelage of trainer Chappie Blackburn (James Edwards).
The film then turns to Joe's blistering rise through the rankings, as he racked up 27 victories before his first pro defeat in 1936 at the hands of former heavyweight champ Max Schmeling (William Thourlby). The humbled and refocused Louis rebounded to take the belt from James Braddock the following year, and he would keep it from all comers, including Schmeling, for the next twelve. Chronicling his entire career, the film incorporates copious footage from Louis's contests with Schmeling, Braddock, Marciano, Max Baer and Primo Carnera, and it also doesn't shy away from depicting the champ's turbulent marriage to Marva Trotter (Hilda Simms).
In casting 26-year-old boxer Coley Wallace in the lead, the filmmakers might have foregone performing polis, but they did get an actor with a striking physical resemblance to the real article, and whose rough-edged labors worked to his advantage when depicting Louis in his relatively naïve youth. Wallace went 20-7-0 in a six-year professional career, and had in fact scored a win over Marciano when both were amateurs. Wallace would actually wind up depicting Joe on-screen once again, as a walk-on in the modern era's best boxing biopic, Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980).
The Joe Louis Story would be the very first production credit for Stirling Silliphant, kicking off a prolific career behind the camera in TV and film that would be marked by the screenplays for In the Heat of the Night (1967), Charly (1968) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). The workmanlike direction came courtesy of Robert Gordon, a one-time child actor notably cast as the young Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927), who predominantly turned to TV work over the balance of his career.
Producer: Stirling Silliphant
Director: Robert Gordon
Screenplay: Robert Sylvester
Cinematography: Joseph C. Brun
Film Editing: Dave Kummins
Art Direction: Robert Gundlach
Music: George Bassman
Cast: Coley Wallace (Joe Louis), Hilda Simms (Marva Trotter Louis), Paul Stewart (Tad McGeehan), James Edwards (Jack Blackburn), John Marley (Mannie Seamon), Dots Johnson (Julian Black).
by Jay S. Steinberg
The Joe Louis Story
Although the onscreen credits for the film contain a 1953 copyright statement, it is not listed in the Copyright Catalog. The picture marked former Twentieth Century-Fox publicity manager Stirling Silliphant's first film as a producer, and was the first film to be produced under Silliphant's Federated Films, Inc. banner. The film also marked the screen debut of champion heavyweight fighter Coley Wallace, who, according to contemporary news items, was paid $17,500 for appearing in the title role. Joe Louis, born Joe Louis Barrow, in Lafayette, AL, in 1914, was the longest-reigning world heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Nicknamed the "Brown Bomber," he turned professional in 1934 after winning the Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight title. His most notable defeat came in 1936, when he lost to Germany's Max Schmeling in a nontitle fight. In 1937, he won the heavyweight title by knocking out James J. Braddock in eight rounds. He avenged his loss to Schmeling in 1938, knocking him out in the first round. He retired as champion in 1949 after holding the title for almost twelve years and defending it a record-breaking 25 times. As depicted in the film, he returned to the ring in 1950 because of financial problems, and lost a 15-round decision to Ezzard Charles in another title bout. He retired permanently the following year, after being knocked out in a bout with Rocky Marciano.
According to a November 1953 Daily Variety article, the picture, which was originally budgeted at $298,000, ran into financial difficulties three weeks into production, when some of the film's investors failed to make payments. At that point, production on the film was halted, and Silliphant and Joe Louis, who was partnered with the producer for an equal share of the profits, reportedly gave up much of their interest to raise more money for the film. Filming eventually resumed when Silliphant brought in Walter Chrysler, Jr. and William Zeckendorf as principal investors. The Daily Variety article also noted that, in addition to his financial problems, Silliphant encountered resistence to the film from Southern exhibitors, and was warned repeatedly that his film would not get booked into many "white" houses. The article quoted Silliphant as saying that "the only one who seemed to have faith in us was United Artists."
According to a January 1953 New York Times news item, Art Smith was originally slated for the part played by John Marley. Joe Louis appears in the film in a number of scenes taken from actual footage of his professional fights. Contemporary news items indicate that filming took place in Detroit, MI, and in locations around New York State, including New York City, Liberty and the Catskills. According to Variety, the final cost of the picture was $311,000. In February 1954, according to a Variety news item, a $745,000 lawsuit was filed against United Artists and a group of exhibitors by Laura Blackburn Shaw, the widow of boxer Jack "Chappie" Blackburn, who claimed that her late husband was portrayed in the film without her written consent. A May 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that the suit was settled out of court for $20,000 and a percentage of the picture's future television grosses. The settlement was reached shortly after a judge ruled that the name and picture of Jack Blackburn were property rights that belonged to his estate. For information about other films based on Joe Louis' life, see the entry for Spirit of Youth in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
Released in United States Fall October 1953
Released in United States Fall October 1953