The famous directive from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" holds no more sway than in the genre of biographical films. Gentleman Jim (1942) tells the Hollywood-worthy story of James J. Corbett, the man generally considered to be the fellow who turned boxing from a disreputable exercise in power punches and bulk to a more scientific sport involving speed, grace, and an understanding of an opponent's weaknesses. As is standard with the biopic form, there's a bare minimum of fact applied to the film, ever-so-loosely based on Corbett's already fabulist autobiography Roar of the Crowd, which was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1924. Errol Flynn cuts a dashing, athletic figure as Corbett, born to working-class Irish parents, college-educated, and burning with the desire to climb the social ladder. While working at a San Francisco bank with his childhood pal Walter Lowrie (Jack Carson), Corbett takes advantage of a chance meeting with socialite Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith) and gains entry to the hallowed Olympic Club, and gets her father to sponsor him as a member so that he can train as a boxer. Vain, cocky, and annoying, Corbett is nonetheless lovable (he is Errol Flynn, after all) and a natural in the ring. In reality, it's easy to see even from this film that Corbett was mostly in the right place at the right time the newly adopted Marquess of Queensbury rules were perfect for his style of fighting, which was more about footwork and intelligence than about sheer brute strength. The facts surrounding Corbett's famous 1891 fight with Peter "Black Prince" Jackson are glossed over (reigning champion John L. Sullivan wouldn't step into the ring with Jackson because he was black) to keep Sullivan sympathetic as played by Ward Bond, he's a bear of a man who banks on his undefeated status, but a scene between Bond and Flynn after Corbett beats Sullivan in a 21st-round knockout is touching. Director Raoul Walsh brings a light touch to this boxing fable, with outstanding montage sequences directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry). As with any biopic, it's inaccurate as all get-out but it's a delightful film nonetheless, with Flynn at the top of his game.
Warner Home Video's DVD release of Gentleman Jim is part of the studio's second "Signature Collection" box of Flynn films, offering an excellent, full-frame transfer that's clean with excellent contrast and rich, deep blacks. The monaural Dolby Digital audio is extremely clean and well balanced. Extras includes a boxing-themed newsreel, short sports-related features "The Right Timing" (8 min.) and "Shoot Yourself Some Golf" (10 min.), which features a young Ronald Reagan; a Merrie Melodies cartoon, "Foney Fables" (8 min.) directed by Friz Freling (in which the Grasshopper shows up the Ant by having a fistful of war bonds, the Goose lays aluminum eggs to support national defense, and the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing is described as "the Fifth Columnist of his day"); plus the trailer for The Male Animal. Keep-case, or slimline case in "The Errol Flynn Collection, Vol. 2."
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