Body and Soul (1947): Polonsky’s Oscar-Nominated Sports Drama Starring John Garfield

Robert Rossen directed Body and Soul a film noir sports drama, starring John Garfield, Lilli Palmer, Hazel Brooks, Anne Revere, and William Conrad.

The screenplay by Abraham Polonsky is partly based on the 1939 film Golden Boy.

Assisted by cinematography by James Wong Howe, the film is considered by some to be one of the best films about boxing.

Body and Soul
Body and Soul 1947 movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The movie is also a cautionary tale about the lure of money—and how it can derail even a strong common man in his pursuit of success.

Charley Davis, against the wishes of his mother, becomes a boxer. As he becomes more successful the fighter becomes surrounded by shady characters, including an unethical promoter named Roberts, who tempts the man with a number of vices. Charley finds himself faced with increasingly difficult choices.

John Garfield as Charley Davis
Lilli Palmer as Peg Born
Hazel Brooks as Alice
Anne Revere as Anna Davis
William Conrad as Quinn
Joseph Pevney as Shorty Polaski
Lloyd Gough as Roberts
Canada Lee as Ben Chaplin
Art Smith as David Davis
Larry Steers as Fight Spectator (uncredited)

The fight sequences, in particular, brought a kind of realism to the genre that had never before existed (James Wong Howe wore skates and rolled around the ring shooting the fight scenes with a hand-held camera).

Oscar Nominations: 3
Screenplay (Original): Abraham Polansky
Actor: John Garfield
Film Editing: Francis Lyon and Robert Parrish
Oscar Awards: 1
Film Editing
Oscar Context
Kazan’s “Gentleman’s Agreement,” based on Laura Z. Hobson’s novel and adapted to the screen by Moss Hart, dealt with anti-Semitism. At Oscar time, the drama was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning 3. “Gentleman’s Agreement” was praised by most critics, one of whom one found it to be “more savagely arresting and properly resolved as a picture than it was as a book,” and describing its script as “electric with honest reportage.”
The film’s major competitor for the Academy Awards of 1947 was Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire, which lost in each of its five nominated categories. Crossfire’s nominated screenplay, by John Paxton, was based on Richard Brooks’ novel The Brick Foxhole, though in a typically Hollywood manner it changed the book’s homosexual hero into a Jew.
The other two Best Picture nominees represented lighter fare: “The Bishop’s Wife,” with 6 nominations, and “Miracle on 34th Street,” with 4 nods.
John Garfield lost the Best Actor Oscar, at his second and last nomination, to the sentimental favorite, British actor Ronald Colman, who won for George Cukor’s A Double Life.
Shockingly, the winner of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar was the least deserved nominee, Sidney Sheldon for the Cary Grant-Shirley Temple star vehicle, “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.”

Directed by Robert Rossen
Produced by Bob Roberts
Screenplay by Abraham Polonsky
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by Francis Lyon, Robert Parrish

Production company: The Enterprise Studios

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: November 9, 1947

Running time: 104 minutes
Budget $1,800,000
Box office $4,700,000