Friday 1 September 2017

Movie Review: The Life Of Jimmy Dolan (1933)

A potent social drama, The Life Of Jimmy Dolan (also known as The Kid's Last Fight) combines boxing and romance with a fast-paced story of redemption.

Handsome boxer Jimmy Dolan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) wins the world title, and to appease his sponsors falsely claims to the adoring media that he lives a wholesome life. In reality, he is a jaded cynic and believes that all his friends are pursuing their self-interest. When reporter Charles Magee (George Meeker) threatens to expose Jimmy's real habits of boozing and womanizing, Jimmy kills him with one punch. A subsequent fiery car crash claims the life of Jimmy's sleazy manager Doc (Lyle Talbot) and girlfriend Goldie (Shirley Grey), and Doc's burnt body is mistaken for Jimmy.

The boxer assumes the new identity of Jack Dougherty, leaves New York City and disappear into a new life on the run. Only semi-retired police detective Phlaxer (Guy Kibbee) suspects that Jimmy is still alive. The boxer makes his way to Salt Lake City area, where he stumbles onto a rural farm run by Peggy (Loretta Young) and her Auntie (Aline MacMahon), who look after a group of sick children. They extend their hospitality to Jimmy, and soon he starts to fall in love with Peggy. But Phlaxer will not give up his quest for justice.

Directed by Archie Mayo, The Life Of Jimmy Dolan is a hard-hitting 88 minutes. A simple story of one man discovering that life could be about more than just narcissism and conceit, the drama lands all the right punches with just enough force. The freedom afforded by the pre-Hays Code era allows Jimmy to embark on his post-murder journey without a predetermined outcome, and Mayo hustles the moral dilemmas and romance along with laudable efficiency. Mayo also finds reasons to introduce some good outdoor action, including a wild car chase.

The film does offer up an extraordinarily sharp contrast between Jimmy's sordid boxer life and the wholesome farm run by Peggy and Auntie, the pure simple folks caring for sick children offering a too-perfect antidote to the poison in Jimmy's soul. But within these limitations Mayo constructs plenty of jagged emotional conflicts, with Jimmy fighting both against his past and his present as a man living a lie under a fake identity while falling in love with a girl who could be his salvation.

The film gives some of the secondary characters good depth, with the detective Phlaxer enjoying his own opportunity to make up for past aberrations. Late in the story the fates of Phlaxer and Jimmy intertwine, and second chances become a corollary to atonement. Even the relatively minor and short role of Goldie is presented with a conflict between loyalty and the pursuit of quick riches during desperate times.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is functional if a bit fluffy for a boxing champion. The supporting cast includes Edward Arnold as another detective, Mickey Rooney and Anne Shirley as two of the kids on the ranch, and a young John Wayne as a boxer uncertain about climbing into the ring with a notorious bruiser.

The Life Of Jimmy Dolan is an unexpected pleasure, a drama with both edge and heart.

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  1. You're underrating Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as many people do, he's way more than "fluffy" and "functional" in this movie. Being a superb athlete, the boxing scenes are quite convincing. His left hook manslaughter punch at the party - which is responsible for both his troubles and later redemption - is very realistic. John Garfield in the remake, You Made Me a Criminal (Warner Bros. 1939) never appears desperate enough or destroyed enough thereby making his eventual redemption less convincing. Take another look at the last scene. The look on his face, those eyes showing us a man who realizes he's been given a chance to live again. Nothing "fluffy" or "functional" here.

    1. Thanks for the comment - we'll keep a closer eye on Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s performances.


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