The Fighter

January 04, 2011 7:05 AM
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Boxing’s continued holiday gives Michael Katz no opportunity to break his handicapping slump. His desperate search for subject matter has included a gift rap column, a 2011 overview to finally a visit to the movies to see “The Fighter.” He paid the senior’s discount price.)

Ever since the development of television in the middle of the 20th Century, boxing has perhaps fared just as well on the big screen. At least, in Cinemascope and Technicolor – save for a brief scene in “Bananas,” there was no Howard Cosell.

I was impressed with “The Fighter,” although a bit surprised that a film about Irish Micky Ward would include only a note at the end that he later would face Arturo Gatti in one of boxing’s great trilogies. It was kind of like watching a film about John F. Kennedy and leaving out not only Lee Harvey Oswald, but also Jackie – or a film about Robert Kennedy and omitting Jack.

But then, “The Fighter” was no more a so-called “boxing movie” than, say, “Raging Bull.” They both are films. Period. Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward wouldn’t last a round with Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta, but Christian Bale, as Ward’s half-brother and trainer, Dick Eklund, could hold his own with Burgess Meredith as Rocky Balboa’s cornerman.

Yes, it is after all a “boxing movie,” showing another unsavory side of the “sport.”

“Sport? They’d hold it in sewers if there was head room,” from “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” one of my favorite boxing flicks.

The cliché around boxing is that the poor gladiators get ripped off by unscrupulous managers and promoters. But over the years, I have come to realize that family, friends and loved ones can be just as disruptive.

Ward’s family was notably dysfunctional, but the “Triumph of the Spirit” – a fight film choreographed brilliantly by trainer Teddy Atlas – is the underlying theme.

“Raging Bull” not a “boxing movie?” That would be like categorizing “Citizen Kane” as a “sledding movie.”

“The Fighter” must be a contender for a top 10 ranking among “boxing movies.” My personal favorite has long been Robert Wise’s 1949 “The Set-Up,” starring Robert Ryan as an old pug who can’t find it in
himself to take a dive.

For much of the film, Wise turns the cameras on the audience – the blood-thirsty fans showing their true humanity. It is by far more gruesome than anything Apollo Creed or Mr. T ever did to Rocky, or what Mike Mungin did to Wahlberg’s countenance in “The Fighter.”

Yes, I enjoyed the “Rocky” movies and believe Sylvester Stallone’s contribution to a renaissance of the game, with the considerable help of the 1976 Olympic team, earned him his place in the hall of fame.

It took the wise Gene Kilroy to explain how Stallone cashed in on one of boxing’s oldest weaknesses, prejudice, by giving the public a long-sought white heavyweight “champion.” (Which means nothing, of course, if the “champion” is a foreigner.)

I loved “Million Dollar Baby,” though I fail to understand the logic for having the Hilary Swank character “lose” her championship fight to the bad girl who conked her with the stool. Even in Nevada, where the bout purportedly took place, that would lead to disqualification and Swank would not only have won an Oscar, but also a green belt from Jose Sulaiman.

It really wasn’t a “boxing movie,” but “On the Waterfront,” by the great Budd Schulberg, contains the immortal line, “I coulda been a contender.” Budd of course was the champion who also penned “The Harder They Fall.”

“The Fighter” is a real winner, but the other night on the tube I saw one of the classic boxing movies, aptly entitled “Monkey Business.” Yes, the old Marx Brothers masterpiece.

At the end, as Zeppo battles the bad guy in the barn, there is Groucho doing a blow-by-blow account, “Zowie, zowie, zowie.”

Rosebud.