Film: Day of the Fight (1951)

July 22, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a / Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: Documentary / Newsreel

Synopsis: Day in the life of middle-weight boxing champion Walter Cartier, adapted by Stanley Kubrick from his 1949 Look magazine photo-essay.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

Inspired by his 1949 photo essay “Prizefighter” for Look magazine, Stanley Kubrick gathered a core team to produce a spec boxing documentary, and filmed a simple narrative of a prizefighter’s daily routine leading up to and including his big bought with a rival middleweight fighter.

Focusing on Walter Cartier again as his subject, the short is a bit longer than an average newsreel, and follows a much more fluid narrative style, with visuals and editing superior to the choppy, shakycam structure of the standard format. Fight is comprised of three parts: an intro showing the atmosphere of a boxing match; a midsection where we’re introduced to Walter and his twin brother / manager / trainer Vincent; and the finale where Cartier fights Bobby James at Laurel Gardens.

Newsreels sometimes relied on narration to fill in missed footage and smoothen continuity gaps, and it wasn’t atypical to hear creaky catch-phrases (‘How’s them apples, folks?’), designed to extract chuckles from audiences.

Kubrick’s directorial approach was more literary, insofar as the concept was in line with the formal magazine spreads he had done for Look (a good 400!): in Fight, he captured the gritty NYC locations, the characters within the boxing world, the earthiness of a fighter’s hard life, and used dramatic visuals and a fact-filled narration – typical aspects of the best kind of photo journalism which often captured serious social issues that studios tended to mutate into star-studded melodramas. (Another key player in the photo-essay was Gordon Parks, whose subjects for rival LIFE magazine included gangs, poverty, and a boy struggling to survive in Brazil’s emerging favelas.)

The film’s midsection follows the Cartiers as they wake up in their NYC apartment, eat breakfast, train, relax with the dog, and prep for the fight, and near the end Kubrick injects material from a boxing historian, intercutting images from a book chronicling the era’s best-known prize fighters.

The combat finale is richly covered with wide shots, close-ups, and a few in-your-face moments of the boxers locked in close proximity, and (apparently) the material in the final edit was culled from footage shot using two camera. Nothing was staged, and there weren’t any retakes, and it is remarkable that Kubrick was able to include several edits which maintain continuity with specific dramatic strikes.

Produced for $3900 and sold to RKO for their “This is America” series, Fight is polished, informative, intelligent, and fairly engaging, and it even boasts a striking modernist score by Gerald Fried.

Like Kubrick, this was the composer’s film debut, and Fried would score 4 feature-length films for the director – Fear and Desire (1953), Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), and Paths of Glory (1957) – before getting lost in B-movies and numerous TV series for most of career. A prolific and under-appreciated composer, Fried’s Kubrick scores are still some of his best work (and scream for full score releases, if not full re-recordings).

The success of his debut put the director / cinematographer on the good side of RKO, who soon accepted his pitch to direct another documentary, Flying Padre [M] (1951), after which he directed the industrial promo The Seafarers [M] (1953).

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Internet Archive DownloadVintage Kubrick Interviews —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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