erik lundegaard


Thursday September 23, 2021

Movie Review: Kid Galahad (1937)


This one’s a bit odd: Warner Bros. pairs two of its biggest stars in a movie that isn’t really about them.

It’s also not odd at all, since each actor becomes what they generally become in a Warner Bros. movie. Edward G. Robinson gets spurned by his woman, as so often happened, and then dies of a gunshot wound, as ditto; and Bette Davis, who did the spurning, exits the boxing gym at the end and walks out into the chill of the night, alone, forever alone, which is classic Bette.

“Kid Galahad” is directed well by Michael Curtiz, and the boxing scenes are powerful for the period—the camera is right in there with them—and the cinematography is beautiful black and white. But I lost interest halfway through.

They're dull, he's dumb
Robinson plays Nick Donati, an irascible boxing manager ready to fire any fighter who doesn’t follow his orders to the letter, while Bette is his girl, “Fluff,”  who’s the brains of the operation, always figuring out ways to smooth things over.

Yes, That’s right: They cast Bette Davis as someone named Fluff. One wonders if Jack Warner wasn’t punishing her for her recent contract disputes.

The movie opens with a boxing match in Miami:

How often do boxing managers get billed above the fighters? One assumes: never?

Donati’s fighter, Burke, doesn’t follow the game plan, loses, so Donati cuts him loose. On the cabride back to the hotel, Donati asks Fluff how much they lost that night ($17,300) and what they have left ($1,800). “We might as well shoot it on a party and start over.” Cut to: the third day of the shindig, when Fluff is serving drinks because the hotel bellhop passed out drunk (hotel bellhops mix drinks at private parties?). So Donati orders up a clean-cut bellhop. He gets one. And how.

Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris) is tall, blonde, broadshouldered, and innocent as a lamb. All the women make innuendo with him and/or passes at him, and thus all the men resent him. Donati’s rival, Turkey Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), says he’s too cute to wear long pants and cuts off his pant legs below the knee with a knife. When Fluff tries to intervene, Morgan’s fighter Chuck McGraw (William Haade), a heavyweight contender, pushes her around. So the bellhop decks him. And a lightbulb goes on for Donati.

Well, a light bulb goes on for us; we’ve seen this movie before. Donati is a tougher sell. He agrees to manage the bellhop in a boxing match with McGraw’s brother because he wants him to get a beating, too. He’s jealous of how much Fluff likes him. Basically he’s siding with Turkey Morgan even though he’d just learned Morgan paid off Burke to take a dive. Makes no sense.

Yet Fluff does fall for the kid. I think it happens when she’s walking him to the elevator after the pants-leg incident and he admits he didn’t know what he was getting into. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone hit a lady,” he says. Her response is delayed. She measures what he says, then realizes she’s the lady. I think that’s when she begins to fall. Nice bit of acting.

Of course, the kid beats McGraw’s brother, Fluff dubs him Kid Galahad, and Donati realizes he might have something here. But since Turkey’s such a sore loser, Donati has to stash him at his mother’s farm upstate—with the added admonition that he stay away from, Marie (Jane Bryan), his recently cloistered sister. Though they initially toss barbs at one another, anyone can read the writing on the wall. That’s actually when I began to lose interest. I was hoping Bette would win the boy. I’d completely forgotten the point of Bette Davis is to wind up alone.

So Galahad rises, Fluff falls (when she realizes Galahad loves Marie), and Donati falls harder (when Fluff leaves him). But it’s all played out against irrelevance—that Galahad shouldn’t k.o. this boxer because it means a title shot too soon, etc. It feels like there’s a cleaner, harder story here, about a man who takes on a fighter for the wrong reasons and then loses everything that’s important to him: his woman and his sister. Or maybe it should be more comic? Hey, stay away from my sister and my woman. Either way, too much of the movie’s focus becomes the kids, who are dull things. Plus Fluff gets dull after she leaves Donati to sing torch songs in a nightclub, while Donati’s never smart enough. Seriously, he’s about the dumbest movie fight manager I’ve ever seen. He has a kid who has the stuff to be champion but never recognizes it: not at the beginning, when he wants him to get a pummeling, and not at the end, when he bets against him in the title bout vs. McGraw, and then feeds him bad advice. It’s never about the fight.

“Kid Galahad” did well at the box office and with the critics. Bette, a tough critic herself, talked highly of it in her autobiography, and it’s still sporting a 7.2 rating on IMDb. It was remade with Elvis in the early ’60s, while “The Wagons Roll at Night” from 1941 is apparently another version, albeit set in a circus, with Bogart in the Robinson role. It’s his last movie before he officially became Bogart; his next role was “The Maltese Falcon.”

According to IMDb, Bogart and Robinson made five movies together, and in only one of them, “Brother Orchid,” do both survive. The tally otherwise is: Robinson kills Bogart (“Dr. Clitterhouse”), Bogart kills Robinson (“Key Largo”), and they both kill each other (“Bullets or Ballots” and this one). So 1-1-2.

Here, because Donati tells Turkey what he’s up to with the title match, Turkey bets a wad on his own fighter, but loses it when Fluff and Marie convince Donati to fight for real. Thinking he’s been double-crossed, and generally a sore loser, he figures revenge is a dish best served really, really hot. So he finagles his way backstage, holds Donati, Fluff and the Kid hostage, and then he and Donati shoot each other. Donati gets some final words to Fluff before dying, then she slumps off into the night. The world is left to the boring kids.

Neither of those up-and-comers, by the way, lasted as long as the old hands. Robinson kept going into the 1970s, Davis into the late ’80s, while Jane Bryan, highly touted and a favorite of Davis’, made 17 movies between 1936 and 1940, then quit to marry Justin Dart, a bigwig in the pharmaceutical industry, a staunch Republican, and a friend and adviser to Ronald Reagan. She spent the rest of her life doing GOP things. Wayne Morris kept acting but died young, at age 45, in 1959, of a heart attack. His best-known role may be as a cowardly soldier in Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” which is ironic: as a pilot during World War II, he shot down seven Japanese planes, helped sink five Japanese ships, and was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.

Silent film star Harry Carey has a small role as a fight trainer, and he’s good: calm, wise. Among Bogie’s gang, I particularly like Ben Welden, whose Buzz Barett is perpetually smiling in the most annoying fashion. Spain’s Soledad Jimenez plays the Italian mother of the Jewish-Romanian fight manager. Early ads for the film include Pat O’Brien in the cast, but I can’t figure out what his part would be, since both Robinson and Bogart are mentioned as well. Not Galahad, surely.

Overall, there’s not much here but history. And a lesson: Find someone who looks at you the way every woman in this movie looks at Wayne Morris.

“Someone wanted me?” “I bet plenty of ’em do, honey.”

Posted at 07:40 AM on Thursday September 23, 2021 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s