STUDIO: Columbia
MSRP: $19.94
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

  • The Kangaroo Kid animated short
  • Pleased to Mitt You comedy short
  • "Screen Snapshots"
  • Ford Theatre episode Sudden Silence
  • Original Golden Boy trailer

The Pitch

A man is torn between his love for a woman, the violin, and the sweet science.

The Humans

William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Lee J. Cobb, Joseph Calleia, and Sam Levine.

The Nutshell

Tom Moody (Menjou) is a boxing promoter who’s seen better times. In order to marry his girl, Lorna (Stanwyck), he needs money. When his fighter breaks his hand the day of his next fight, it would seem Moody’s shit out of luck, but that’s when Joe Bonaparte (Holden) walks into his life. Joe volunteers to take the fighter’s spot and wins the bout, beginning Joe’s journey to the top.

The Lowdown

Watch Barbara Stanwyck’s eyes. They’re always active, clueing us in to what she’s thinking. In the scene where the mobster Eddie Fuseli (Calleia) tries to lure Joe away from Moody, Stanwyck’s eyes dart back and forth between the two men. They dance around Eddie, trying to read him, but lock on Joe’s face, sure of how he’s going to react. When Joe says he’ll think about Eddie’s proposition, the shock on Stanwyck’s face feels more genuine than it would if she had been examining her nails or doing some other piece of business. It’s simple stuff, but Stanwyck plays it very well. The other actor that stands out is Lee J. Cobb, despite the questionable accent and occasional hysterics. Mr. Bonaparte is proud of Joe’s talent for the violin, and when Joe turns his back on it, Cobb carries Bonaparte’s disappointment on his shoulders. William Holden is solid in his first major role. He handles Joe’s transformation from enthusiastic kid to bitter contender admirably.

Director Rouben Mamoulian had the benefit of not one but two of the greatest cinematographers behind the camera on Golden Boy: Nicholas Musuraca who worked with Jacques Tourneur on his classics Cat People and Out of the Past; and Karl Freund, maestro responsible for the cinematography of many great German Expressionist films. I’m going to hazard a guess and say Freund was responsible for the scenes at the Bonaparte home. The scene that leads me to this guess is the one where Mr. Bonaparte stands in the dark living room. He strikes a match to light his pipe and finds himself in front of the picture of young Joe and his first violin (the actual instrument hanging below the photo). Bonaparte looks at the photo wistfully for a moment before blowing out the match, extinguishing the light in the room and his heart all in one breath. The psychology in this shot and a few of the compositions created in the same room (one with Joe playing the violin in the foreground, with his arm dividing the screen, creating separate frames for the two people trying to lead him away from boxing, in particular) speak more to Freund’s background than Musuraca’s, though Musuraca’s work on Val Lewton’s productions, particularly The Seventh Victim, show him equally capable of visualizing the psychological.

Golden Boy’s influence on Raging Bull shows mainly in the (few) fight scenes. Joe’s first fight has a lot of close-ups and quick cuts. For the big fight at the end of the film, the camera takes a seat in the front row, looking up and through the ropes at the fighters. The fight scenes have a vitality that Scorsese took and amped up as only he can.

The Package

Somebody spent some time in the vaults looking for material to fill out this DVD. Everything has something in common with Golden Boy, though nothing that ties directly to it. First up is The Kangaroo Kid, an animated short about a young kangaroo that spends his time playing the violin when his father would much rather he lace up the gloves and hop in the ring. It’s nothing spectacular, but there are worse ways to kill a few minutes. Next up is a two-reeler from the Glove Slingers series, Pleased to Mitt You, featuring Shemp Howard. It’s a motley assortment of slapstick, zingers, gags, and fisticuffs. The short is nothing really of note, but decent enough. Continuing on our way, we’ve got the "Screen Snapshots" newsreel. It’s basically a precursor to the entertainment news programs we all know and love today. We see a variety of stars enjoying the pleasures Palm Springs and Santa Monica have to offer, including Barbara Stanwyck trying her hand at a round of golf.

Stanwyck makes her first dramatic television appearance in Sudden Silence, an episode of “The Ford Television Theatre”. This is the best of the features, a solid little thriller that finds Stanwyck in a small town married to the sheriff. When the father of a hanged man arrives in town one night hollering "an eye for an eye", the sheriff must leave Stanwyck and their sick son alone to make sure the peace is kept. As the night wears on, the boy’s condition worsens. Stanwyck grows more and more frantic worrying about the boy and the possibility of the hanged man’s father coming around, leading to some tense moments that are handled well by director Lewis Allen (whose film Illegal turned up in the latest noir box from Warner Brothers). The trailer for Golden Boy is also included.

I doubt anyone will want to watch any of these more than once, except maybe Sudden Silence, but it’s the thought that counts. The more they poke around in the archives, the better chance we have of seeing something really special turning up.

7.3 out of 10