Golden Boy

Screening on Film
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian.
With Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, William Holden.
US, 1939, 35mm, black & white, 99 min.
Print source: Sony Pictures

William Holden’s first starring role throws him headfirst into a contentious boxing ring, up against a series of formidable challenges—including a father who wants him to save his hands for the violin; a mob boss who promises fame and fortune at an ethical price; and the fluctuating heartstrings of Barbara Stanwyck’s enigmatic, world-weary pragmatist. In the most noir corners of Mamoulian’s adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, the dialogue comes as sharp and fast as the punches, while “golden” Joe Bonaparte encounters ever-deepening moral, artistic and existential dilemmas. Despite the full-bodied melodrama faltering in its clichéd characterizations of Lee J. Cobb’s handwringing Italian patriarch and Joseph Calleia’s ominous gangster, Golden Boy maintains a tense, tormented excitement and delivers—in romantic, Mamoulian fashion—at least two cynical souls who cannot escape the heart’s innocence. 

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