King Vidor’s first (and still best) version of the story of a prizefighter who makes a big comeback to help support his young son is well-acted by Wallace Beery, who won the Oscar for portraying the down-on-his-luck boxer, and child actor Jackie Cooper, as his sensitive son.
The Champ was MGM’s top-grossing film of the year, largely due to the chemistry between Beery and Jackie Cooper, who made a strong impression the year before in Skippy. Cooper’s crying scenes are still extremely touching, even when you try to resist the tale’s manipulative nature.
As usual, King Vidor directs the sentimental melodrama with tact, discretion and taste, elevating the material way above its trappings.
Oscar Nominations: 4
Best Picture (MGM), produced by King Vidor
Director: King Vidor
Actor: Wallace Beery
Original Story: Frances Marion
Oscar Awards: 2
The Best Picture went to “Grand Hotel,” which also starred Wallace Beery in a stellar cast that included Garbo, Barrymore, and Crawford. Vidor lost the Directing Oscar to Frank Borzage, who won for “Bad Girl.”
Despite five nominations, and many innovative features, King Vidor never won a legit Oscar; he was later compensated by the Academy with an Honorary Award.
No less than eight films were nominated for Best Picture: “Grand Hotel,” which won, “Bad Girl,” “Five Star Final,” “One Hour With You,” “Shanghai Express,” and “The Smiling Lieutenant.”
“The Champ” was remade in 1979 by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli in a schmaltzy version, starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder as the father-son, and Faye Dunaway as Schroder’s mother.