Adapted from Clifford Odets famous play, The Golden Boy marked William Holden's first major film appearance. Holden stars as a promising violin player who ruins his career by moonlighting as a prize-fighter. Barbara Stanwy... more »ck co-stars as the woman who tries to convince him to give up his musical ambitions.« less
Classic Boxing Story With A Prime Stanwyck/Holden Pairing
Simon Davis | 12/06/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Columbia Pictures "Golden Boy", released in 1939 retells one of the most famous of ringside stories in the tale of a sensitive boy who loves his violin playing but who because of grinding poverty is forced into the tough and uncompromising world of major league boxing. A major release for 1939 the role of Joe Bonaparte provided a star making break for the young and largely inexperienced William Holden after Columbia was unable to borrow their first choice for the role, Twentieth Century Fox star Tyrone Power. Although the male character is really central to most of the action, "Golden Boy", also provided a very important role for Barbara Stanwyck which aided greatly in her climb to top stardom which had been given a major push two years previously with her acclaimed Academy Award nominated performance in "Stella Dallas". Accused by some as being now a dated melodrama its underlying theme of the often painful compromises that we often are forced to make in life is still just as timely and the Stanwyck/Holden/Menjou combination works wonderfully in bringing this often used theme with its stock characters to life.
"Golden Boy", had already enjoyed great success on Broadway when Columbia Pictures bought the rights and it offered a plum lead role to any young actor. We first see Joe (William Holden), as a studious young man in a poor and largely Italian neighbourhood of New York. Preferring to play his violin to earning a living the traditional way Joe is encouraged by his father (Lee J. Cobb)), who wants to see his son perfect his craft. Joe however begins to see that his life will never change unless he earns real money and despite his father's opposition Joe begins to earn quick money in the boxing ring. Guided by trainer Tom Moody (Adolphe Menjou), Joe begins to blossom as a fighter getting bigger bouts that bring in big money. Joe also makes the acquaintance of Lorna Moon, Tom's girlfriend who is largely taken for granted by him and is someone eager for love. The two quickly form an attraction however Joe's relationship with Tom begins to go sour as Joe feels he is ready for bigger things. In a rage Joe drops Tom as his trainer unaware that Tom is a basically decent individual who cares for him. He falls into the hands of crooked racketeer Eddie Fuseli (Joseph Calleia), who cares nothing about the fighters he "looks after", and is involved in many shady dealings. Fuseli gets Joe the big fight he has been waiting for however it ends in tragedy when his opponent is accidently killed in the ring. When Joe sees the man's grief stricken family he begins to question the course he has taken in regards to both his vocation in life and in his feelings for Lorna. The conclusion sees Joe dump Fuseli and return to his great love of music with the ever loyal Lorna by his side.
Despite its at times predictable story it's the performances that work the real magic in "Golden Boy". William Holden delivers an amazing performance as the curly haired rookie fighter who finds life at the top has its drawbacks. Despite his inexperience Holden really shows the future talent that was in evidence throughout his career and his torment over whether to stay with his great love of violin playing or earn the big money as a boxer is very well handled in this his first important part. His chemistry with the much more experienced Barbara Stanwyck is electric and there is the well known story of Stanwyck being responsible for guiding the younger actor through the initial stages of production until he found his acting legs thus beginning a lifelong friendship with his leading lady. The Barbara Stanwyck that we perhaps best know from her sterling work during her peak period of the 1940's in classics such as "The Lady Eve", and "Double Indemnity", was still only being developed here in "Golden Boy". As the "girl", of Fight trainer Tom Moody Stanwyck already shows that no nonsense independent streak in her playing of Lorna Moon that would be further developed in the succeeding years in her many important roles. Stanwyck always gave her all in films and here in "Golden Boy", she succeeds in turning what could have been a window dressing role into an important character that you do very quickly begin to care about. Gifted actor Adolphe Menjou, who gave countless great performances over the years delivers another one here in the difficult role of the Boxing Trainer who develops Joe as a fighter only to see him take his girl at the finale. He turns a possibly thankless role into one of great interest with just the right elements of toughness with that hint of vulnerability that makes his character such an intersting one. Joseph Calleia also does most interesting work as crooked promoter Eddie Fuseli who almost wrecks Joe's life and much of the real tension in the story comes from his performance. The scenes where Joe accidently kills his black opponent in the ring are really emotionally charged and Eddie Fuseli's complete indifference to the man's death and Joe's need for support during this time are some of the most powerful moments in the story. Whether you are a boxing fan or not the ringside action is first rate in "Golden Boy", and William Holden shows a professional understanding of the art of boxing and the correct movements like he actually was trained as one.
"Golden Boy", might be viewed as romantic melodrama by some but the story manages to get across the harsh reality of life in the boxing ring and the toll it takes on individuals not strong enough to cope with it very well. The film for me is memorable for the birth of the legendary career of William Holden and the further development of Barbara Stanwyck's towards total stardom. Not being a boxing fan it's the performances and strong attempts at realism that make this film stand out for me. It is in my belief one of Hollywood's better forays into a boxing themed story. For a slice of gritty entertainment courtesy of Columbia Pictures I highly recommend their 1939 effort "Golden Boy", starring Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden."
Another tribute to Barbara Stanwyck's 100th birthday
calvinnme | 09/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film was William Holden's star vehicle, with him being only 21 at the time he starred in this movie as a violinist turned boxer. Barbara Stanwyck plays a hard-boiled tough lady who turns out to have a soft spot - much like in 1941's "Meet John Doe" - brought out by Holden's Joe Bonaparte. She is torn between loyalty to Menjou's Tom Moody and the fact that she is drawn to Holden's Bonaparte. And Adolphe Menjou - what can I say? He almost always improves any picture he's in, and I can't seem to dislike him even when he plays the cad. It is a good film full of great performances, raw emotion, and wonderful cinematography, but it is not well remembered because of its year of release - 1939. That was the year of Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz. However, it did do quite well at the box office.
The bonus materials include three vintage short subjects: The Kangaroo Kid, a 1938 color cartoon spoof of Golden Boy; the 1940 two-reeler Pleased To Mitt You, one of the "Glove Slingers" series of comedy shorts with Shemp Howard (of The Three Stooges); and the August 1, 1930 edition of Screen Snapshots, which features a 23-year-old Stanwyck being taught to play golf by fellow actor Ricardo Cortez. The DVD also contains her very first dramatic TV appearance: the western drama Sudden Silence, a 1956 episode of "Ford Television Theatre" that has been unseen for 50 years. The source of information on these extras was a press release issued when the DVD was announced. It is good to see Sony giving its classics some consideration for a change and not just dumping an old classic film on a disc with no extras in order to pump up the release of a usually inferior remake. "All the King's Men" comes to mind in this category."
scotsladdie | 07/31/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A young man is torn between being a violinist and a prizefighter. Lifelong friends since this 1939 film, Bill Holden always gave credit to Stanwyck for helping him with his rather difficult role of Joe Bonaparte, the Golden Boy of the title. Very green as an actor, Holden had a tough battle to succeed in the role; Stanwyck spent time giving him acting advice(she had acted in films a dozen years already) and her coaching was in no small part of an amazing performance coming from such a novice. Barbara is in typical excellent form; her Lorna Moon is blunt and without illusions (she usually was, wasn't she?) - clearly a woman who "knows the score". Much of the film seems oversimplified today with unneccesary sentiment with Lee J. Cobb in a rather overwrought performance as Joe's "You-a-gooda-boy" Italian pop. However, the picture retains solid virtues in the authentic fight scenes and the "real" performances of three pros: Stanwyck, Menjou and Calleia. In a year too rich with fabulous movies (It's highly doubtful that 1939 will EVER be matched again for the number of superlative movies released in a single year) Golden Boy did mediocre business. Holden sent Stanwyck a single red rose on the anniversary of G.B.'s release date annually for the rest of his life-he felt that indebted to her for her immeasureable help."
This Black and white movie from 1939 is classy all the way
email@example.com | manhattan new york | 01/11/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've never been a fan of "old" movies, but this one is truly amazing in it's depth and scope of character study. A young man named joe bonaparte has just turned 21 and he has an oppurtunity to box and make real money, but if he boxes he can't play his violon. He may also damage his hands in the boxing ring and forever damaging his ability to play the instrument which has been his love for the better part of his life. Joe must decide what path to follow, the one that his father has encouraged him to go forth all through his childhood or the one that will yield satisfaction for him in the present. END"
Kenneth M. Henderson | Australia | 12/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At last Sony have issued this title on DVD and the wait is worth it. I like pictures with boxing ring fights and this is a good one. The performances of Barbara Stanwyck, Wm Holden & Adolphe Menjou are excellent. So-called HD mastering is listed on the slick and this is a superb production both in picture & sound. Many Columbia features and serials from this period, generally, suffer from poor elements, much of which had been shipped to the Library of Congress long ago. Sound elements have been lost in part on some serial reels, for example, and have been replaced by new voices using original script dialogue but this is usually to noticeable in all respects. Golden Boy does not have this trouble. Included on the disc are a trailer, a color cartoon, Kangaroo Kid, a 1930 Screen Snapshots with an appearance by Stanwyck and a half-hour western series introduced and performed by Stanwyck from the 1950s. A must buy DVD for Collectors. And I like Stanwyck films"