Gentleman Jim (1942): Raoul Walsh’s Boxing Biopic, Starring Errol Flynn as Champion James J. Corbett, Jack Carson, and Alexis Smith

Raoul Walsh directed Gentleman Jim, a biopic starring Errol Flynn in one of his most favorite roles as heavyweight boxing champion James J. Corbett (1866–1933).

Grade: B (***1/2* out of *****)

Gentleman Jim
Gentleman Jim - Poster.jpg

1942 theatrical poster

The supporting cast includes Alexis Smith, Jack Carson, Alan Hale, William Frawley, and Ward Bond as John L. Sullivan.

The movie was based upon Corbett’s 1894 autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd.

The tale begins in 1887 San Francisco, where boxing is illegal.

James J. Corbett (Errol Flynn), a brash young bank teller, attends match with friend Walter Lowrie (Jack Carson).

When police raid nets Judge Geary, a board member of Corbett’s bank, Corbett’s fast talking gets his superior out of trouble.

The judge wants to improve the image of boxing by recruiting men from more respectable backgrounds and having them fight under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.

To that extent, he has imported British coach Harry Watson (Rhys Williams). Watson finds that Corbett, raised in combative Irish immigrant family headed by Pat Corbett (Alan Hale), has good fighting skills; Geary likes his protégé’s manner.

However, Corbett’s arrogance irritates members of the upper class, particularly Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith). They clash, but Corbett is attracted to her, and his self-confidence and charm eventually overcome her distaste.

Corbett becomes a professional prizefighter, and acquires a manager, Billy Delaney (William Frawley).

He introduces more sophisticated style of boxing, emphasizing footwork over the brawling epitomized by world champion John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).

After winning some matches, Corbett gets the opportunity to take on the great man. Corbett’s method of boxing baffles Sullivan, and Corbett wins not only the title, but also Victoria.

Corbett is crowned as the new heavyweight champion. His victory is unexpectedly interrupted by the defeated Sullivan, who comes to personally present the championship belt to Corbett.

Warner had purchased the rights to make a film of Corbett’s life from his widow, Vera.

Director Raoul Walsh had met Corbett when he was a young boy.

Filming was to start in January 1942, after which Flynn was to make The Sea Devil, a remake of The Sea Beast (Warner’s version of Moby Dick).[9] Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, gag writers for Jack Benny, did some work on the script.[10] Phil Silvers was announced in the support cast.[11]

Keen to make the movie, Flynn undertook extensive boxing training, working with Buster Wiles and Mushy Callahan. However, when the US officially entered World War II, the movie was postponed so Flynn could be rushed into Desperate Journey.

While he did this Horace McCoy rewrote the script. Vincent Lawrence then wrote some drafts and Robert Buckner was assigned to produce.

In his unreliable 1959 ‘autobiography’ My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn details how he suffered a mild heart attack while making this movie. He collapsed on set on 15 July 1942, while filming a boxing scene with Ward Bond. Filming had to be shut down while he recovered; he returned a week later.

Flynn took the role seriously, and was rarely doubled during the boxing sequences. Alexis Smith recounted in the biography The Two Lives of Errol Flynn by Michael Freedland how she took the star aside and told him, “‘It’s so silly, working all day and then playing all night and dissipating yourself. Don’t you want to live a long life?’ Errol was his usually apparently unconcerned self: ‘I’m only interested in this half,’ he told her. ‘I don’t care for the future.'”

This was the third Errol Flynn movie to gross at least $2 million for Warner in 1942. The film earned $1,775,000 domestically and $2,067,000 foreign.

Cast
Errol Flynn as James J. Corbett
Alexis Smith as Victoria Ware
Jack Carson as Walter Lowrie
Alan Hale as Pat Corbett
John Loder as Carlton De Witt
William Frawley as Bill Delaney
Minor Watson as Buck Ware
Ward Bond as John L. Sullivan
Madeleine Lebeau as Anna Held
Rhys Williams as Harry Watson
Arthur Shields as Father Burke
Dorothy Vaughan as Ma Corbett
Harry Crocker as Charles Crocker (uncredited)
Art Foster as Jack Burke (uncredited)
Pat Flaherty as Harry Corbett (uncredited)
Frank Mayo as Gov. Stanford (uncredited)
Henry O’Hara as Collis Huntington
George Lloyd as Harrigan (uncredited)
Mike Mazurki as Jake Kilrain (uncredited)
Sammy Stein as Joe Choynski (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Screenplay by Vincent Lawrence, Horace McCoy, based on The Roar of the Crowd (1925 novel) by James J. Corbett
Produced by Robert Buckner
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Jack Killifer
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Distributed by Warner

Release dates: November 25, 1942; 1948 (France)

Running time: 104 minutes
Budget $972,000
Box office $3,842,000; $2 million (US rentals)
1,255,311 admissions (France