Saturday, August 18, 2012

STF Critic Philip Bagnall on The Gentleman Prizefighter

"A portrait of a unique and intriguing man" - IFI Stranger Than Fiction Festival Critic, Philip Bagnall reviews the The Gentleman Prizefighter.

With Ireland’s recent Olympic successes in the boxing ring, the story of prizefighter James J. Corbett a.k.a ‘Gentleman Jim’ warrants telling now more than ever, despite the fact he’s been dead for 79 years!

With The Gentleman Prizefighter, acclaimed documentarian Andrew Gallimore charts the rise and eventual decline of a true pioneer. Corbett, the son of Irish immigrants, began to make a name for himself as a distinguished pugilist in the health clubs of San Francisco in the early 1890s, before overcoming the great John L. Sullivan to become heavyweight champion in 1892. Unlike the 1942 biopic Gentleman Jim (starring no less than Errol Flynn as Corbett), The Gentleman Prizefighter covers all the bases of Corbett’s influence. He was the first successful boxing champion under the newly-formed Queensberry Rules, which are still in use in modern boxing, whilst films of some of his most famous bouts attracted big crowds and helped to legitimize the then-fledgling form of art/entertainment. Corbett also found success on stage and in film after leaving the ring.

Gallimore, working from author Patrick Myler’s book on Corbett, knows the value of a charismatic and flawed subject, and Corbett was certainly both. He could fight and act, but his racism and extra-marital dalliances (including an alleged liaison with Mae West!) made Corbett a divisive figure. Boasting narration from Liam Neeson, The Gentleman Prizefighter shows all sides of Corbett. A bon vivant plagued by prejudices and personal tragedies, Gallimore uses all aspect of Corbett’s life to create a rich, informative and very accessible (even to the boxing-ignorant, this writer included!) portrait of a unique and intriguing man.

Philip Bagnall (@CynicalFilm)
IFI Stranger Than Fiction Festival Critic

IFI Stranger Than Fiction, Dublin's Documentary Film Festival runs from 16th - 19th August  - for more information & tickets visit

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