- Movie Rating -

The Champ (1979); ★★1/2

| April 4, 1979

[reviewed February 14, 2021]


Okay, I suppose that if you have to remake The Champ, you could do a lot worse.  At a moment in movie history when the major Hollywood Studios were obsessively chasing the success of Jaws and Star Wars and trying to calculate precisely what would get people into theater seats, the idea of remaking a familiar, classic old melodramatic tearjerker might seem somewhat logical.  But WOW does this movie lay it on thick.  There are so many sobs issues and crisis piled on this movie, you’re surprised that there isn’t an avalanche that crushes everyone at the end of the film.

John Voight is seriously miscast as Billy, a pug boxer who once had a promising career but has now hit the skids, taking small matches for little pay.  He’s a bum (the movie reminds us of this at least 30 times) and everyone regards him with shameful indifference.  The exception is T.J., his adoring 8-year-old son (Ricky Schroder) who looks up to his old man as a hero.

Billy is distraught because he’s not a good role model for T.J., but what can be said about the fact that he is trying to be a parent while working as a horse trainer in Florida and drinks and gambles his paychecks away. 

That might be enough, but the story then complicates that simple set-up with a convoluted story that gets Billy’s fashionista ex-wife (and T.J.’s mother) Annie into their lives and wants to reunite with T.J. even though she bailed on them right after the boy was born.  Of course, while T.J. worships his old man, he – not unreasonably – resents his other for abandoning them.  Billy knows that this is a better arrangement and after he is thrown in jail for slugging a man in a bar, he tries to convince T.J. to go and live with her.  This is the cue for a lot of sobbing and crying on Schroder’s part and a lot of bemoaning of “Champ!  Oh, Champ!”

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli with a style that largely tips toward letting scenes play on too long in an effort to build up emotion, the movie tries and tries to be about the people, but we are always aware that the movie is trying to maintain an emotional hold.  Zeffirelli seems out to outdo the 1931 original by ramping things up in the tear-jerking department. 

So much of this movie could have been done away with.  Whole pages of dialogue and phony crises could have been thrown out and the music could have been tamped down to give us a more natural story what didn’t feel like it was beating us over the head to make us cry.  The ending is so manufactured, so propped up, so manipulative that you cry over the technique, not the story.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Drama
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