The Great White Hope (1970)
as Jack Jefferson
as Mama Tina
as Cap'n Dan
as Frank Brady
as French Promoter
as El Jefe
as Sister Pearl
as El Jefe
as The Kid
as English Official
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Critic Reviews for The Great White Hope
Jones' re-creation of his stage role is an eye-riveting experience. The towering rages and unrestrained joys of which his character was capable are portrayed larger than life.
One of those liberal, well-meaning, fervently uncontroversial works that pretend to tackle contemporary problems by finding analogies at a safe remove in history.
This heavyweight boxing fable... has a knockout performance by James Earl Jones but it only just gets by on points as drama and is undermined by an early form of political correctness.
The movie is too theatrical and every idea is spelled out for the audience, but the acting of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander (both Oscar-nominated) is good.
Audience Reviews for The Great White Hope
I've been liking me some Marty Ritt films lately, an undiscovered gem for me, and though not quite up to his usual stuff this one'll do in a pinch. When it first came out lo those many, many years ago (We were so poor, we didn't even have rocks) it proved highly impactful to the rest of my life and certainly my worldview. Now though, many of the seams are plain to see, for instance how much of the stage play aspects of the thing remain intact. James Earl Jones doesn't really have much of a range to explore his character and the same is true for the underdeveloped but centrally decisive Jane Alexander character. And the point of the thing, the grinding racism of the most free nation on the earth and how it adversely affects the lives of individuals isn't given its full scope. Nonetheless the flavor of the idea is present and enough to engage. In a supposedly free country where an essential kernal of life is the denial of perpetuating an oppressive condition, this piece still speaks volumes.
Howard Sackler's screenplay holds pretty closely to his stage play script, which I read shortly before watching this. The interracial relationship between Jack Jefferson (Jones), who represented real-life heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, and Eleanor (Alexander) is the most interesting feature of the story. Sure the period details provide a unique setting. The sports lingo of the early part of the twentieth century along with the racial slurs show a world that has rarely been presented on the screen. As Jack dodges the charges brought against him under the Mann Act by moving around internationally, the different cultures of the different countries are not so clearly represented, although the fact that the world was racist and not just America comes across well. The final boxing match scene in the play is all from the point of view of spectators outside the stadium. With the cinematic representation, we do get to see the two men slug it out. Though the makeup for this final fight scene is not very natural, James Earl Jones as Jack gives a performance throughout that shows both Jack's defiant energy and his defeated exhaustion.
The actual history is quite distorted but both James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander give great performances.
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