Watching 1939: Golden Boy (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

1939 film:
Golden Boy (1939)

golden boy3

Release date:
Sept. 5, 1939

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, William Holden, Lee J. Cobb, Joseph Calleia, Sam Levene, Edward Brophy, Beatrice Blinn, Don Beddoe

Columbia Pictures

Rouben Mamoulian

Joe Bonaparte (Holden) is torn between two careers: becoming a prizefighter or a violinist, like his father (Cobb) wants him to be.

1939 Notes:
• William Holden’s first credited role.
• By the numbers:
– Barbara Stanwyck was in two films released in 1939.
– William Holden was in three films released in 1939.
– Adolphe Menjou was in four films released in 1939.
– Only film of 1939 for Lee J. Cobb and Sam Levene
– Joseph Calleia was in five films released in 1939.
– Edward Brophy was in 10 films released in 1939
– Beatrice Blinn was in seven feature films released in 1939.
– Don Beddoe was in 19 feature films released in 1939.

golden boy2

Other trivia:
• Based on the 1937 play by Clifford Odets
• Columbia bought the film rights in 1938, planning for the film to star Jean Arthur.
• John Garfield, Elia Kazan, Richard Carlson and Tyrone Power were all considered for the role of Joe Bonaparte.
• Fight scenes filmed in Madison Square Garden.
• Professional boxer James ‘Cannonball’ Green plays Chocolate Drop in the final fight.

golden boy

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
The year of 1939 was William Holden’s big year. Holden went from an uncredited role to the lead in GOLDEN BOY, an adaptation of a Clifford Odet’s play.

Holden plays Joe Boneparte. Joe has dreams of becoming a prize fighter, while his father (Cobb) has dreams that he will become a great violinist. Joe is torn between his own desires, what his family wants, and the people using him in the boxing business.

This is one of those films that you can tell was a play, even if you didn’t know prior. The scenes, particularly those in the apartment, are staged like a play.

William Holden of the standout stars of 1939. This is the year that Holden’s career really began and it started out with a bang. During this time he was nurtured and coached by his co-star Barbara Stanwyck, who wanted for him to be a success in this film. Her help caused them to be life long friends.

This is also a breakthrough role for Lee J. Cobb, who at only age 28, plays William Holden’s father.

A real highlight for me was Joseph Calleia, who gives a great performance as a high-class hood.

While I know GOLDEN BOY is a memorable film of 1939, I personally don’t think it’s fully a great film. But it has some great moments. I particularly think the ending after Joe’s big fight with the Chocolate Drop is very good and especially moving.

There are some great lines in it as well:
“If I had hair, I’d tear it out,” Edward Brophy’s character says.
“This is your girl?” “I’m my mother’s girl,” an exchange between Calleia and Stanwyck.
“All I want is peace and quiet, not love,” said Barbara Stanwyck.

I also feel like this film adaptation of the famous play laid the groundwork for other stories (serious or spoofed) of the boxer who also wants to be a great musician.

I also want to know this: Do women still dress up in their evening finest and go to the fights? Because I almost want to do this.

While the jury is out on how I fully I like this film, it is important in the grand scheme of 1939 as it launched the career of a major Hollywood star.

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