Monday, May 26, 2014

Bette Davis Month Bonus: 'Kid Galahad' (1937)

There's an impressive grittiness to the early scenes of Kid Galahad, essentially ending once the title character gets introduced. Before that, director Michael Curtiz offers a tour through the seedy underbelly of the boxing world, with Edward G. Robinson as a sleazy manager and Bette Davis as his girlfriend and right-hand woman. They may be unscrupulous, but they're not as bad as the crime boss played by Humphrey Bogart, who's always undermining their efforts to groom a new champ. After their latest prospect goes down in flames, they retire to a hotel suite for an epic blowout before finding a new fighter to groom, and Curtiz shoots the debauched party in a series of long tracking shots that are almost Altman-esque in their use of overlapping characters and dialogue.

Unfortunately that party marks the introduction of upstanding farm boy Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris), a bellboy with natural boxing talent whom Robinson's Nick Donati decides to take under his wing. After Davis' Louise "Fluff" Phillips dubs him Kid Galahad, he's on his way to becoming a champ, but he's so wholesome and honest that he's completely immune to all the nasty dealings going on around him. Morris gives a bland, one-dimensional performance, which is especially disappointing to watch opposite Davis as the angst-ridden Fluff, who's loyal to Nick but longs for a calmer, more traditional life. She watches while Ward falls in love with Nick's fresh-faced sister, completely ignoring the experienced woman silently pining for him.

The problem is that Ward doesn't seem like he's worth pining for, and the drama surrounding the rivalry between Nick and Bogart's Turkey Morgan is as underwhelming as the love story between Ward and Nick's sister. Davis adds some dimension to her character (far more depth than you'd expect from someone named Fluff), but the movie itself is as insubstantial as Morris' performance. It was remade in 1962 starring Elvis Presley, who can at least add some singing to his bland, one-dimensional acting.

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