Despite his talent as a musician, a city boy decides to become a boxer. He's successful as a fighter -- much to the dismay of his parents. When gangsters try to by a piece of him he begins to have second thoughts.
Golden Boy in film form is almost brilliant. Joe Bonaparte is a gifted violinist, but poverty bites hard and he tries his hand at the noble art of pugilism, he proves to be a natural and a career at the top beckons, but does he risk damaging his hands and ending his interest in another noble art? Angst abound as this Rouben Mamoulian adaptation of the Clifford Odets play hits a dramatic spot, whilst simultaneously firmly being only of its time. It hasn't aged well, its dialogue and character portrayals quite simply would be scoffed at now, but this is 1939 and one really has to have the fortitude to appreciate the late 30s sensibilities to enhance the viewing experience. We follow Joe Bonapart (a wonderful and fresh faced debut from William Holden) as he is torn apart by those closest to him, family pressures, love interests and spurious heavies, all combine to pull him from pillar to post. It makes for a riveting viewing, yet after two thirds of intense character build up I found the film to be something of a let down entering the final round. Those familiar with the stage version of Golden Boy will be aware of a vastly different ending to the one we get on film, and it's a shame that the makers here wasn't brave enough to give what I believe to be the ending the film deserves. Another irritant to me was the performance of Joseph Calleia as Eddie Fuseli, where there should be menace from this gangster type fellow, we instead get over the top spivery that ultimately is way too much. Still the direction from Mamoulian perfectly frames the main characters, and Barbara Stanwyck adds a touch of class to the proceedings as the duplitious Lorna Moon. Also of note is the score from Victor Young, whilst the production value is very high indeed. Golden Boy is a film I certainly recommend to friends interested in classic cinema, but sadly to me it will always stop short of being a true classic, something I feel that the original ending would possibly have given it. 7/10