Combustible Celluloid
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With: Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, William Holden, Lee J. Cobb, Joseph Calleia, Sam Levene, Edward S. Brody, Beatrice Blinn, William H. Strauss, Don Beddoe
Written by: Lewis Meltzer, Daniel Taradash, Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, based on a play by Clifford Odets
Directed by: Rouben Mamoulian
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/05/1939

Golden Boy (1939)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fiddling About

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

William Holden made his movie debut in this boxing drama from Columbia Pictures, earning him the nickname "golden boy." He has a refreshing brashness and pent-up energy. Sadly, the movie hasn't aged well. Clifford Odets' dialogue is constantly overpitched and overwritten, and director Rouben Mamoulian seems terrified of tampering with it. Once or twice, he manages some interesting setups, but the film never quite leaves the stage. (Even the boxing matches are stiff and short.) Holden plays Joe Bonaparte, a skilled violinist who learns to make a quick buck by boxing. The trouble is that he could injure his hands and never play again. Lee J. Cobb overacts as his doting father, but Adolphe Menjou gives the picture some zing as Tom Moody, Joe's manager; he seems part of the tradition of more hard-boiled boxing pictures. Still, the movie's centerpiece is Barbara Stanwyck, playing a hard-luck case engaged to Moody but in love with Joe. Golden Boy is a disappointment, but not without its moments.

DVD Details: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's 2007 DVD release comes with a bunch of top-notch extras, notably the cartoon The Kangaroo Kid, which parodies the film. There's a comedy 2-reeler, Pleased to Mitt You, starring Shemp Howard (a Columbia contract player), and a half-hour TV Western, "Sudden Silence," starring Stanwyck. A 1930s-era "Screen Snapshots" shows Stanywck and other stars on vacation. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer.

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