Golden Boy (1939)

“It’s a big city. Little people don’t stand a chance.” In his first starring role, William Holden portrays violinist turned boxer “Joe Bonaparte” in this moderately entertaining little flick that was directed by Rouben Mamoulian (Love Me Tonight) and based on a 1937 Clifford Odets’ play of the same name. Lee J. Cobb totally hams it up as Bonaparte’s Italian immigrant father, who is totally devastated that his son has chosen the violent, sleazy world of boxing over the life of a struggling musician (Cobb was just 27 years old at the time!). The solid cast includes Barbara Stanwyck as Bonaparte’s love interest “Lorna Moon,” Adolphe Menjou as Bonaparte’s manager “Tom Moody,” Joseph Calleia as the sleazy promoter “Eddie Fuseli” and Sam Levene as the brother-in-law “Siggie” (who provides comic relief with such lines as “You can’t insult me . . . I’m too ignorant!”). After some rather heavy-handed drama (Bonaparte accidentally kills his opponent in the ring), the film tacks on a happy ending (in the original play the couple reportedly dies in a car accident). John Garfield and Tyrone Power were both considered for the role of Bonaparte. Useless Trivia: Stanwyck staunchly defended an insecure Holden when he was nearly fired from the role by Columbia studio head Harry Cohn. The two became lifelong friends.

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