Monday, March 31, 2008

Tonight on TCM: Evander Holyfield takes his best shot

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 5:24 PM

click to enlarge robertandevander2-1.jpg

(Photo courtesy Turner Classic Movies)

OK, so we know by now that Turner Classic Movies is trying to broaden its viewership with a range of ideas, most notably by taking last fall’s Guest Programmer Month and having different types of celebrities show off their love of film. It’s a savvy idea, and should appeal to the non-film geek types (read: the rest of America) TCM wants to lure into the cult. Solid.

Tonight represents one of the bolder choices for a guest programmer: Former boxing champ and beloved Atlantan Evander Holyfield. I have to say, I love only one of Holyfield’s choices: 1975’s Cooley High, which makes its TCM premiere. The movie is a rare attempt at authenticity at exploring the lives of inner-city high school kids in Chicago. The film is directed by Michael Schulz, a black director who went on to helm other black-themed works in the 1970s (Car Wash, Greased Lightning, Which Way Is Up? and Bustin’ Loose) before settling into his current gig of directing TV shows.

The film also stars the always fun-to-watch Glynn Turman, who appeared last summer in True Colors’ production of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, earning him a Best Of Atlanta critics’ pick. The cast also featured a pre-“Welcome Back Kotter” Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and a pre-“Saturday Night Live” Garrett Morris. (The script was by “Good Times” and “What’s Happening!!” co-creator Eric Monte!)

Here’s a clip from the first 10 minutes of the movie (there’s loads more on the YouTube). Dig that Supremes tune for the opening credits!

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I could do without the rest of Holyfield’s picks: True Grit (1969), The Shootist (1976) and The Terminator (1984). Yawn. Been there, seen that.

How about a boxing-movie festival, Evander? Here, let us help you …

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) — Could’ve sworn I’ve seen this a couple times on TCM, with Paul Newman portraying Rocky Graziano’s ability to use boxing to avoid a life of crime (based on the Rock’s autobiography).

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The Set-Up (1949) — Robert Wise’s under-appreciated film noir stars Robert Ryan (never more sympathetic) as a washed-up prize fighter looking for a title shot not knowing that he’s been set up to take a fall by his manager. Told in real-time, it’s a gripping tale about hanging onto a dream regardless of the circumstances.

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Hard Times (1975) — Walter Hill’s Depression Era tale is set in New Orleans, featuring Charles Bronson as a prize fighter — and I mean, real fighter, as opposed to a boxer — whom James Coburn hopes to use to make a big score to pay off his gambling debts.

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Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) — Rod Serling conceived this TV-movie starring Anthony Quinn as prize fighter Louis “Mountain” Rivera, who’s taken one too many punches (by Cassius Clay, no less) but is egged on my his corrupt manager (Jackie Gleason) to do a wrestling gig to (you got it) pay off a gambling debt. Boxers should be smarter with their money, no? (The American Playhouse 90 version with Jack Palance is also a goodie.) Clay and Jack Dempsey have cameos.

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City for Conquest (1940) — James Cagney is a scrappy pug who (almost literally) blindly fights his way through his career that helps fund his brother’s classical-music composer career and his girlfriend tries to become a professional dancer. (Happens every day!)

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