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Gentleman Jim, A Rollicking Good Time, Monday 10:45AM (EST)


TomJH
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TCM is having a day long tribute to Alexis Smith tomorrow with eight films from her Warner Brothers days of the ‘40s. And if there’s only one film in that collection that you will have the time to view then I heartily recommend it be GENTLEMAN JIM, easily the most enjoyable film in which the actress appeared during that decade.

 

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Raoul Walsh directed this rambunctious, good natured Hollywood portrait of James J. Corbett, the boxer who was instrumental in bringing the Marquis of Queensberry rules to an outlawed sport that had a notorious reputation for its participants indulging, at times, in half wrestling antics in the ring. But this film is no history lesson. In the true tradition of Hollywood “biographies” of the time there is a lot of leeway taken with historical facts here.

 

What you have, though, is enthusiastic, at times even zestful filmmaking, with Errol Flynn at a peak in his career as a c o c k-of-the-walk bank clerk who wants to break away from his stale lifestyle and turn his love of boxing into an entirely different career path for him. Awaiting him, at the end of the road, will be the legendary John L. Sullivan (beautifully played by Ward Bond) as the towering (if drunken) heavyweight champ who loves to bellow, “I can lick any man in the world!”

 

“All except one, Mr. Sullivan, all except one,” Corbett will counter him, causing the great John L. to blow a gasket on his monumental ego and pride.

 

This film has, for me, what was probably the performance of Flynn’s career. His casting is every bit as perfect here as it would ever be in any of his more famous swashbucklers. Flynn brings an aggressive charm to the role of the boxer, as well as a physical credibility in the well directed and edited boxing sequences. Flynn’s adroit ability to play a scene for light hearted humour is also in ample evidence in this energetic production, which is chockfull of affectionate jibes poking good natured fun at the “blarney” Irish.

 

Alexis Smith is relegated to playing “the girl” in this film in the fictitious role assigned to her. However, predictable as the end result may be, her bantering scenes with Flynn are fun to watch. She stands up to the strutting peacock that Errol plays, trying to puncture his huge ego whenever possible. The chemistry between these two is a pleasure to view.  I think the two actors helped to bring out the best in one another at this stage in their careers. (They were the best of friends off screen and Errol would be best man at her wedding to Craig Stevens).

 

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The film has a superior supporting cast, including Jack Carson, William Frawley,  Alan Hale in great comic form as Corbett’s father, and a standout performance (perhaps the finest of his career) from Ward Bond as the bellowing Sullivan. Bond and Flynn share a sentimental scene towards the film’s end which is unexpectedly touching, both actors bringing a sensitivity and highly effective restraint to their performances here. It’s a quietly sublime moment, one that director Walsh later wrote about with considerable pride years later in his autobiography.

 

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Highlight scene of the film for me: Corbett’s fight on a barge, with the cocky “dancing” boxer taking on a large brute of a fighter in a contest that will include numerous knockdowns and one of the participants being knocked through the ring ropes into the Frisco Bay waters around the barge. Walsh brings an incredible energy to this rousing sequence which is also distinguished by high spirited humour mixed in with the athletics.

 

Gentleman Jim  ranks as a “don’t miss it” broadcast, particularly for those who have never seen the film. It’s always been a head scratcher to me that the film is not better remembered today. Flynn later called it the favourite film and role of his career.

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Gentleman Jim  ranks as a “don’t miss it” broadcast, particularly for those who have never seen the film. It’s always been a head scratcher to me that the film is not better remembered today. Flynn later called it the favourite film and role of his career.

 

I second the recommendation for GENTLEMAN JIM.

It is a a good movie (with a great performance by Errol Flynn) that deserves much more recognition.

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a standout performance (perhaps the finest of his career) from Ward Bond as the bellowing Sullivan. Bond and Flynn share a sentimental scene towards the film’s end which is unexpectedly touching, both actors bringing a sensitivity and highly effective restraint to their performances here. It’s a quietly sublime moment, one that director Walsh later wrote about with considerable pride years later in his autobiography.

 

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This scene is a favorite of mine as well

 

One question though -- could this Flynn classic have originally been intended, like Robin Hood before it, for Jimmy Cagney?

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This scene is a favorite of mine as well

 

One question though -- could this Flynn classic have originally been intended, like Robin Hood before it, for Jimmy Cagney?

To the best of my knowledge it certainly never was. Flynn is a good approximation for the real Corbett, unlike short stuff Cagney. Plus Flynn could pull of the gentleman aspect of his character well, something that might have been a bit more of a stretch for tenacious Jim.

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I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said in this post, TomJH! Though of course *I* would, right? ;)

 

This is probably my favorite of all of Errol Flynn's films and he had so many excellent performances it is hard to choose one favorite, his portrayal of James J. Corbett was one of his best.  I cannot imagine anyone else but Flynn in the role.  I don't think Cagney would have worked.  While he does box in some (or maybe just 1) of his films, it's a grittier boxing match.  Cagney would have been a good contender if he was featured in the illegal boxing bouts, like what Flynn and Jack Carson go watch at the beginning of the film-- the pre-Queensberry Rules boxing.  The public was also so used to Cagney being a gangster that having him turn gentleman would be a hard thing to accept.  Plus, Alexis Smith's part would have needed to be recast, as she was a tall woman, taller than Cagney I imagine.  

 

Anyway, "c ock-of-the walk" is the perfect way to describe Flynn's performance in this film.  He is cocky, but insanely charming that he pretty much has his way with everyone--except Alexis Smith of course.  However, even with their playful love/hate thing they've got going on through 3/4 of the film, it is obvious that Smith likes him and despite how much he might aggravate her, she can't help but like him.

 

Alan Hale is hilarious as Flynn's father as is William Frawley as his manager.   

 

My favorite parts are the beginning of the boxing match on the barge in San Francisco bay when Flynn's opponent's manager ditches his fighter's gloves.  "Where are his gloves?" The referee asks. "He lost them! That's where they are!" The manager responds. 

 

I also love the morning after scene where Flynn and Carson wake up, hungover, in a hotel room, after a wild night on the town in San Francisco which ended with them getting on a train to Salt Lake City.  Nobody in the history of cinema has ever looked as good in a union suit as Errol Flynn does in this film.  I'm just sayin'. I love later when Frawley barges in announcing that he booked his client, Flynn, into a fight that evening.  Flynn and Carson are understandably confused and have to be reminded that this all occurred last night while they were trashed.  Despite Flynn's rough condition, he takes the fight because he needs the money to go home.  Cue the fight scene with Flynn lying on the mat with a black eye and a fat lip and Frawley apologizing to everyone in the crowd.  Lol.

 

There are so many other great scenes in this film:

 

-The family's jig in the hotel room

-The sentimental scene between Flynn and Bond at Flynn's celebration party

-The outdoor scene when Flynn and Smith finally acknowledge that they like each other and kiss.

-The scene where two of Flynn's brothers get into a fight at the party and Alan Hale starts yelling at everyone: "Give them room!" The part about this scene that cracks me up is Hale's wild hairstyle and his face when he's yelling "Give them room!"

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To the best of my knowledge it certainly never was. Flynn is a good approximation for the real Corbett, unlike short stuff Cagney. Plus Flynn could pull of the gentleman aspect of his character well, something that might have been a bit more of a stretch for tenacious Jim.

 

If Warners was willing to cast Cagney as a 12th century English nobleman, I have no doubts they would have readily cast him as a Frisco prizefighter.

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I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said in this post, TomJH! Though of course *I* would, right? ;)

 

This is probably my favorite of all of Errol Flynn's films and he had so many excellent performances it is hard to choose one favorite, his portrayal of James J. Corbett was one of his best. 

 

There are so many other great scenes in this film:

 

-The family's jig in the hotel room

-The sentimental scene between Flynn and Bond at Flynn's celebration party

-The outdoor scene when Flynn and Smith finally acknowledge that they like each other and kiss.

-The scene where two of Flynn's brothers get into a fight at the party and Alan Hale starts yelling at everyone: "Give them room!" The part about this scene that cracks me up is Hale's wild hairstyle and his face when he's yelling "Give them room!"

Thanks very much, speedy, for your enthusiastic review of a film I knew you loved.

 

And you're correct in mentioning a number of other scenes in the film that I failed to mention in my OP.

 

Another one of my favourite bits in the film is when Corbett, early in the film, has himself repeatedly paged at Frisco's toney Olympic Club, much to the chagrin of its members, as he ambitiously and vainly tries to get his name better known among the affluent crowd there.

 

This sequence, in turn, had an impact upon me when I made a Vegas visit many moons ago. As I was standing in a casino my ears suddenly stood straight up as I heard the name "Ray Leonard" being paged. There was a big fight in town at the time and I assumed that it was Sugar Ray Leonard that was being paged.

 

I then had Leonard paged once again but put down the phone and started running around the periphery of the casino where all the paging phones were located in the hopes of meeting the great Sugar Ray. I didn't spot himself, however.

 

I then thought of our favourite film, Gentleman Jim. At that moment I then had myself paged repeatedly so that Ray Leonard, if he was anywhere in the vicinity, would hear my name. After several pages of my name, without receiving an answer, of course, the operator then came back on my line to tell me that this Tom fellow wasn't answering.

 

"That's alright," I told her, "He's probably in the middle of another of his big wins."

 

If this all sounds pretty juvenile, well, it was, but I was young then and, quite frankly, having a good time with it all. If I couldn't meet Sugar Ray Leonard, then he was darned well going to hear my name over the casino broadcast system. But the inspiration for the idea came to me from Flynn in this film. I think that Errol might have enjoyed the moment if he could have been there.

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To the best of my knowledge it certainly never was. Flynn is a good approximation for the real Corbett, unlike short stuff Cagney. Plus Flynn could pull of the gentleman aspect of his character well, something that might have been a bit more of a stretch for tenacious Jim.

 

By 'best of my knowledge' are you just saying you have never heard about Cagney being considered for the role before it was given to Flynn,  or to you have more specific knowledge? 

 

Anyhow,  I agree it is highly unlikely that Cagney would have been considered for the role before Flynn.   By 1941 when this film was being made,  Flynn was on the rise and as big of a star as Cagney.    But hey,  WB cast Cagney in City for Conquest as a boxer,  a role he was way too old for at 40.    

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By 'best of my knowledge' are you just saying you have never heard about Cagney being considered for the role before it was given to Flynn,  or to you have more specific knowledge? 

 

"To the best of my knowledge" means exactly that. I never heard of Cagney as contemplated casting in this film. Quite frankly, the thought of the much shorter Cagney putting on a dancing display and trying to spear the much larger Ward Bond with jabs, a la Jim Corbett, is a pretty funny one.

 

(Unless, of course, the film's screenplay would ignore the fact that Corbett was a scientific boxer, rather than a Cagney-style scrapper).

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 I agree it is highly unlikely that Cagney would have been considered for the role before Flynn.   By 1941 when this film was being made,  Flynn was on the rise and as big of a star as Cagney.    But hey,  WB cast Cagney in City for Conquest as a boxer,  a role he was way too old for at 40.    

 

When was the property (Corbett's memoir) bought? The project might have been years in gestation -- the first memo proposing Cagney for Robin was in 1935.

 

On a related note, was Young Man With A Horn first intended for John Garfield? The book was published in 1938; I don't know when Warners obtained the film rights. Although Douglas tries, the role seems to be crying out for Garfield. He has a vulnerability that Douglas lacked.

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Thanks very much, speedy, for your enthusiastic review of a film I knew you loved.

 

And you're correct in mentioning a number of other scenes in the film that I failed to mention in my OP.

 

Another one of my favourite bits in the film is when Corbett, early in the film, has himself repeatedly paged at Frisco's toney Olympic Club, much to the chagrin of its members, as he ambitiously and vainly tries to get his name better known among the affluent crowd there.

 

This sequence, in turn, had an impact upon me when I made a Vegas visit many moons ago. As I was standing in a casino my ears suddenly stood straight up as I heard the name "Ray Leonard" being paged. There was a big fight in town at the time and I assumed that it was Sugar Ray Leonard that was being paged.

 

I then had Leonard paged once again but put down the phone and started running around the periphery of the casino where all the paging phones were located in the hopes of meeting the great Sugar Ray. I didn't spot himself, however.

 

I then thought of our favourite film, Gentleman Jim. At that moment I then had myself paged repeatedly so that Ray Leonard, if he was anywhere in the vicinity, would hear my name. After several pages of my name, without receiving an answer, of course, the operator then came back on my line to tell me that this Tom fellow wasn't answering.

 

"That's alright," I told her, "He's probably in the middle of another of his big wins."

 

If this all sounds pretty juvenile, well, it was, but I was young then and, quite frankly, having a good time with it all. If I couldn't meet Sugar Ray Leonard, then he was darned well going to hear my name over the casino broadcast system. But the inspiration for the idea came to me from Flynn in this film. I think that Errol might have enjoyed the moment if he could have been there.

I also liked the scene when Flynn keeps having himself paged.  While is was a strategic move to get his name out there, I have to imagine that Flynn's character was getting a kick out of it too.

 

I also love the very sweet scene between Flynn and his mother where she expresses how worried she is about him fighting in this bout.  He assures her very lovingly that he will be okay and that their lives will be better as a result of the bout.  He promises to buy her a fancy coat.  He has charm in spades in this scene. 

 

I also like at the beginning of the film when Flynn and Jack Carson start work and open up their respective bank teller counters, all the women line up at Flynn's counter.  That's whose counter I'd line up at too.

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When was the property (Corbett's memoir) bought? The project might have been years in gestation -- the first memo proposing Cagney for Robin was in 1935.

 

On a related note, was Young Man With A Horn first intended for John Garfield? The book was published in 1938; I don't know when Warners obtained the film rights. Although Douglas tries, the role seems to be crying out for Garfield. He has a vulnerability that Douglas lacked.

 

Good point;   If Warner had the rights to the memoir 5 or so years before actual production began on the film,  then the odds that Cagney was considered for the part before anyone else increase big time since he clearly was the top male star at WB in those years. 

 

Anyhow,  all of us are just speculating.    Yea, just because the role is perfect for Flynn and Cagney would have been miscast doesn't mean he wasn't considered.    In the studio-era actors were miscast all the time.     

 

As for YMWAH:   Yea,  Garfield would have been great in that role.   While Douglas holds his own Garfield would have been a better fit.   

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I also liked the scene when Flynn keeps having himself paged.  While is was a strategic move to get his name out there, I have to imagine that Flynn's character was getting a kick out of it too.

 

Corbett was a hustler in this film, and I think that that aspect of his character, presented here in a good natured way, of course, would have appealed to Flynn when he read the screenplay. Flynn was a hustler in a lot of ways, too, and a guy who also loved a good BS session, either doing it himself or listening to others do it.

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Yup, this is a blatant thread bump to remind everyone that GENTLEMAN JIM in on TCM tomorrow morning. You won't be sorry you watched it.

 

 

I know I won't be ;)

 

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I'm planning on DVR-ing it even though I already own it.  My DVDs are in boxes down in the basement, because I don't have bookshelves for them yet.  I can't seem to locate which box my Errol Flynn Volume 2 boxed set is in. 

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Just because...... 

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That's a great gif, cinemafan. This was a gag that was pulled on Errol during production with that little guy massaging him so his reaction there is the real thing.

 

By the way, does anybody recognize the little man working on Flynn here? He actually appears in a couple of scenes in Gentleman Jim, by way of reminder.

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My apologies to anyone who planned upon seeing Gentleman Jim based on this thread. Like an idiot (!!!), I stooopidly provided the wrong time slot in my post heading, saying that it was coming on at 10:45 in the evening.

 

That has now been corrected. This terrific turn-of-the-century charmer will be broadcast at 10:45 AM today.

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This HAS long been one of my favorite Flynn movies.

 

I don't know just HOW MUCH of it contains any fact about Corbett and his career, and don't care.

 

I knew it was a Hollywood movie to begin with, and "fact" never got in the way of making many Hollywood movies.

 

It's a good time, if taken in the spirit that was intended when it was made.

 

 

Sepiatone

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For those who might be interested, here are a few areas in which Gentleman Jim is NOT historically accurate.

 

1. The real Jim Corbett was a quiet, dignified man, something not nearly as interesting as having him portrayed in the film as he is as a strutting c o c k-of-the-walk.

 

2. Jim Corbett was a married man, not a bachelor bantering with a high spirited high society woman

 

3. Corbett and Sullivan had no handshake after their 1892 fight. They very much continued to hate one another. It wasn't until 1910 that they finally briefly shook hands in front of the cameras when they were both rooting for former heavyweight champ Jim Jeffries to win the heavyweight crown back "for the white race" from champion Jack Johnson.

 

4. Corbett's parents were not the engaging happy pair that they were portrayed to be in the film. In fact, shortly after Corbett lost his heavyweight crown to Bob Fitzsimmons, his father committed suicide after shooting his mother to death.

 

Other facts:

 

A reference is made in the film to a 61 round draw between Corbett and Peter Jackson. Jackson was a black Australian fighter and one of the most respected fighters of his time. Sullivan was a notorious racist (not making him particularly unique for his era) and always drew a line at having black opponents fight for the heavyweight crown. To be fair, that continued to be the practice of all heavyweight champs until Tommy Burns put the crown on the line against Jack Johnson in 1908.

 

While he's best remembered today as the second heavyweight champion of the world and the man who fought under the Marquis of Queensbury rules when he defeated Sullivan, Jim Corbett spent most of his life working as a stage actor where he made most of his money.

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For those who might be interested, here are a few areas in which Gentleman Jim is NOT historically accurate.

 

1. The real Jim Corbett was a quiet, dignified man, something not nearly as interesting as having him portrayed in the film as he is as a strutting c o c k-of-the-walk.

 

2. Jim Corbett was a married man, not a bachelor bantering with a high spirited high society woman

 

3. Corbett and Sullivan had no handshake after their 1892 fight. They very much continued to hate one another. It wasn't until 1910 that they finally briefly shook hands in front of the cameras when they were both rooting for former heavyweight champ Jim Jeffries to win the heavyweight crown back "for the white race" from champion Jack Johnson.

 

4. Corbett's parents were not the engaging happy pair that they were portrayed to be in the film. In fact, shortly after Corbett lost his heavyweight crown to Bob Fitzsimmons, his father committed suicide after shooting his mother to death.

 

Other facts:

 

A reference is made in the film to a 61 round draw between Corbett and Peter Jackson. Jackson was a black Australian fighter and one of the most respected fighters of his time. Sullivan was a notorious racist (not making him particularly unique for his era) and always drew a line at having black opponents fight for the heavyweight crown. To be fair, that continued to be the practice of all heavyweight champs until Tommy Burns put the crown on the line against Jack Johnson in 1908.

 

While he's best remembered today as the second heavyweight champion of the world and the man who fought under the Marquis of Queensbury rules when he defeated Sullivan, Jim Corbett spent most of his life working as a stage actor where he made most of his money.

Tom, have you ever seen the Sullivan biography THE GREAT JOHN L., from 1945? They briefly go into the Corbett/Sullivan debacle. Interesting fim, but I have a poor quality dvd I bought on the internet. Would love this to be released officially, and restored of course.

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I can't prove it, and may be completely wrong, but after rewatching GJ I am convinced it was originally intended as a Cagney vehicle.

 

Everything seems to point to Cagney -- the "Oirish" family, the brash upstart trying to hustle his way into high society, etc... Cagney would have been at home with the blarney. Flynn seems more comfortable with the snobs at the Olympic club -- it's at home he comes across as an outsider.

 

Don't get me wrong: I've always liked Flynn, and love Gentleman Jim. But until proven otherwise I stand by my assertion that it was first meant for another Gentleman Jim.

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Tom, have you ever seen the Sullivan biography THE GREAT JOHN L., from 1945? They briefly go into the Corbett/Sullivan debacle. Interesting fim, but I have a poor quality dvd I bought on the internet. Would love this to be released officially, and restored of course.

I've never seen The Great John L., Arturo, the only film bio of Sullivan that comes to mind. I would certainly appreciate having the opportunity to do so one day.

 

By the way, Raoul Walsh, who directed Gentleman Jim, said that, through his father as a connection, he had met both Sullivan and Corbett when he was a boy. I've always thought of this film in connection with the same director's The Strawberry Blonde, both turn-of-the-century affairs, one largely set in Frisco, the other NYC, both rose coloured portrayals of the 1890s and with dollops of sentiment, particularly the Cagney film. Walsh ranked Strawberry Blonde, in fact, as the favourite film of his career.

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