Credited for making William Holden a star, Golden Boy is the finest example of the “boxing film” from an era when theaters were besieged with the B film genre.
It sounds kind of funny at first to even refer to an old time boxing film as a classic, but not so much when you stop to consider the more recent cinematic successes of Rocky and Raging Bull. Today, one would have to think twice before taking on the subject for fear of being compared to these two highly acclaimed films. However, back in the day, when the studio system was really in its prime, boxing films were a dime a dozen and a recognized genre of their own with very formulaic plots. Nearly every contract player put on the gloves to varying degrees of success, including Wallace Beery in The Champ, James Cagney in Winner Take All and City for Conquest, and even Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim. It wasn’t until the hugely popular Broadway play, Golden Boy, by Clifford Odets, was adapted to the screen that the sub genre was raised to the level of legitimate drama.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeLauraDirected by the versatile Rouben Mamoulian (), the hard-edged Barbara Stanwyck leads a cast of exceptional supporting actors, including the aging silent film star Adolphe Menjou, and sinister character actor Joseph Calleia. Noted “Method” actor Lee J. Cobb makes his screen debut reprising his on stage role as Golden Boy’s immigrant father. Everyone here gives a top-notch performance in what could have easily diminished into brooding schlock, but Cobb’s performance is particularly notable, considering he was only a few years older than Holden, who played his son. Cobb presents a powerfully realistic portrayal of a father lamenting his son’s choice to give up the pursuit of a promising young career as a violinist in order to make some quick money as a prizefighter. Although Cobb delivers a few moments of high hysteria, the moments are honest, appropriate and downright touching in one of the earliest examples of “Method” acting presented on film.
Having had just two feature films to his credit, Holden fought for the title role, training nonstop for his acting, as well as his boxing and violin playing, inspiring his co-stars to christen him with the same nickname as the character he portrayed, Golden Boy. He eventually suffered from exhaustion and would have been replaced had it not been for the efforts of his patroness, Stanwyck, who insisted that the film not be allowed to continue without him. Obviously, the talent surrounding the inexperienced actor served to raise his own abilities to their peak. After a week’s rest, Holden resumed work and delivered a sensitive, wild, and passionate portrayal. One that reveals a glimpse of the powerful performer he would later become in Sunset Blvd., The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Stalag 17, for which he received the Oscar for Best Actor and fulfilled the promise of his moniker as the Golden Boy of acting.