Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What I learned from Gentleman Jim (1942)

Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim (1942)
Errol Flynn as James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett

Sometimes it takes a certain message delivered at just the right time to make a big impact. Gentleman Jim (1942) changed my life. And it really shouldn't have happened with this film. If you know me, you know that I avoid historical biopics like the plague, especially ones from the early days of film history. They are usually over-the-top, unrealistic and stretch the truth beyond what seems possible. I don't even know how I came across Gentleman Jim. Maybe I watched it on TCM one day? Maybe I was on an Errol Flynn kick? Maybe I watched it because I love sports movies? If you look at lists of the greatest films of all time, you won't find Gentleman Jim on it. It's a decent movie but it's not one of the best. But when I watched it years ago it taught me one of the most important life lessons that I've had at the forefront of my mind ever since: no one will hand you opportunities, if there is something you want in life you need to make it happen for yourself.

Gentleman Jim (1942)

"There's only the lucky and the unlucky. Those that happened to grab the right moment and those that didn't." - Alexis Smith as Miss Ware

Directed by Raoul Walsh, Gentleman Jim is based on the life of heavyweight boxing champion James J. Corbett. The story starts in San Francisco 1887. Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn) lives on the south side of the city and grew up sparring with his older brothers. He and his best bud Walter (Jack Carson) are bank clerks by day and boxing enthusiasts by night. Corbett wants to train at the exclusive Olympic Club and finds a way to get in when wealthy socialite Miss Ware (Alexis Smith) needs help bringing gambling money to her dad. Corbett makes a name for himself quickly as a boxer with potential. Everyone calls him Gentleman Jim for his penchant for wearing finery, outside of the ring of course. His meteoric rise is supported by his boxing enthusiast and fun loving dad Pat (Alan Hale). All the bouts in the ring lead up to the big match with current heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) .

The story is based on Corbett's autobiography The Roar of the Crowd although it takes some artistic liberties. Three studios were interested in the rights for the movie but Warner Bros. won out. Sports editor for the Chicago Herald and Corbett expert Ed Cochrane was a technical advisor on the film. Errol Flynn was trained by junior welterweight champion Mushy Callahan who also doubled for him in some shots, especially those with the fancy footwork. Flynn did a lot of his own boxing. The work was strenuous enough that he suffered a mild heart attack while making the movie.

8 years ago I wrote a piece on this blog called Gentleman Jim and Opportunities. In it I wrote "He's an Irishman from humble origins and we want to see him rise to the very top. Why? Because we want the same for ourselves. We want those opportunities. We want to be the best. We want to overcome our circumstances and triumph." Flynn's Corbett is an opportunist in that he both finds opportunities and makes them when he has no other option.

Skeptics will say, oh you could have learned that lesson somewhere else. And it's not like the concept was new to me. But for some reason this movie really drove it home. Ever since I watched Gentleman Jim I have made opportunities for myself. I learned how to spot good opportunities and not to be scared to try something new, even if it makes me so nervous that I get sick to my stomach and have anxiety for days. I'm always stronger on the other side and I never regret taking the chance. I learned over the years that it's okay to ask. The worst you can hear is no. And now I'm never afraid to ask because it just increases your chances of getting an opportunity you wouldn't have had before.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I bought Gentleman Jim (1942) during one of WAC's 4 for $44 sales. I just had to have this one!

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