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With: Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Malcolm X
Written by: n/a
Directed by: William Klein
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 120
Date: 03/18/2013

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest (1974)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Floats Like a Butterfly

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

William Klein directed this "cinema verite" collection of footage of ourgreatest boxer, Muhammad Ali. The two-hour film is divided into twoparts. The first is shot in black-and-white, with Cassius Clay preparingfor his 1964 fight with Sonny Liston. The second half, in full color,has the newly renamed Muhammad Ali battling George Foreman in the famous1974 "Rumble in the Jungle."

The movie has two major drawbacks, the most glaring being the lack of actual fight footage. For two hours we witness Ali during his most revealing moments, but we never once see him at his best, in the ring. (Klein instead shows us montages of photographs.)

The second drawback is that Leon Gast's 1996 documentary When We Were Kings gives a far better and more interesting look at the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight.

Still, Muhammad Ali: The Greatest fills a gap left by both When We Were Kings and by Michael Mann's 2001 biopic Ali. It gives us a real look at this complex man, turned on and at full force for the media, and alone in more truthful moments.

Klein also shows real-life fight fans, who chant for Liston's victory before the fight, then switch allegiance to Clay after. We see the severe, sinister looking team of white men in charge of the fight game, and we get an astonishing close-up interview with Malcolm X.

DVD Details: Facets ($29.95), DVD is presented in full-frame format and contains scene-specific commentary by director Klein.

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