BR: Kid Galahad (1962)

September 5, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  August 15, 2017

Genre:  Musical / Comedy / Drama

Synopsis: A freshly discharged G.I. returns to his birthplace in search of old family roots, a career, and some lovin’, only to become involved in a boxing tournament that will decide the fate of a local promoter- gambler.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




Kid Galahad was billed quite loudly in the original p.r. campaign as a musical (“Singing Loving Swinging It’s Elvis! Elvis! Elvis!” screams the poster), but similar to Follow That Dream (1962), you feel undercurrents pulling Elvis Presley towards differing material that with any other screen performer might clash and contradict, but Elvis had such a magnetic, likeable screen persona that a simple smile or a few words in his inimitable drawl softened the bumps under which sometimes lay poorly stitched seams.

In fact, he may have been the only multi-talented performer who could’ve pulled off a song and kinda dance version of the same-titled 1937 drama in which a discharged G.I. returns to his birthplace, and must fight a tournament that could decide the fate of his fiancée and her corrupted brother.

Elvis is Walter Gulick, a happy-go-lucky G.I. whose parents moved the family away from the unintentionally provocatively named Cream Valley, New York, after his birth. Walter’s returned to his never-seen home town to reconnect with the people (and very whitebread culture) and get a sense of his late parents’ roots.

A mechanic whiz by nature – a skill also applied to Pat Boone’s Nick Conover, the clean-cut / prodigal nephew in the musical April Love (1957) – Walter decides to make an extra $5 by doing a few rounds with Joie Shakes (The Naked Kiss‘ Michael Dante) at the ‘boxing camp’ managed by slickster Willy Grogan (Gig Young), and for a while it seems the boy’s ready to fall after being nothing but a punching bag for Joie, but one left hook and Bang! Joie’s out cold, and the promoter in Willy sees dollars and convinces Walter to do a few rounds for him at a major tournament.

Helping Walter train is Lew Nyack (salt & peppered Charles Bronson), a retired fighter after his leg went bad from one too many bouts. Halfway through training Walter meets Willy’s kid sister Rose (Joan Blackman, fresh from appearing with Elvis in Blue Hawaii), after which romance is seeded all good-naturedly, with just careful, respectful kissing and hand-holding.

As the tournament approaches, Willy’s pressured by mobbish kingpin Otto Danzig (slick & sleazy David Lewis) to push Walter to take a fall after Round 3, enabling a swell windfall and wiping out Willy’s massive debts, but he soon gets second thoughts after Lew’s hands are brutally busted, and receives added pressure from an Assistant D.A. (uncredited Ed Asner in his film debut) to do the right thing.

Not unlike April Love’s uplifting finale in which Conover engages in a sports tournament to bring victory & winnings to his bride-to-be, all does end well for the kids in Kid Galahad, but there are some serious tonal shifts which give the film both substantive dramatic meat and show Elvis was wholly capable of playing serious roles. An argument between Walter and Willy is forceful through words and quick wit rather than any threats of violence, and Willy’s shaped into such a sufficiently flawed character that he’s less dense and pitiful than expected, even throwing a few physical punches towards Otto’s goons to ensure Walter’s major bout will remain clean.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is Bronson, not just because he’s good, but perfectly fine playing a verbose, expressive, and sometimes wryly funny character the actor would avoid through much of his work in the 1970s and 1980s, preferring sparse words and grimaces. Lew’s got a range of emotions, and it’s shocking to see the legendary ‘Stone Face’ play a polar opposite of his classic big screen archetype – a complete 180 from the silent, itinerant boxer in Hard Times (1975). It’s also worth noting that at no time is Bronson shown shirtless or sleeveless – he was probably the most fit and bulked up man in the cast, and could knock out any cast member, if not make Elvis look a little wan.

A mass of fine character actors give the film a special warmth and vibrancy, especially Robert Emhardt as the corned beef-obsessed cook. Emhardt’s better known for the playing uber-bigot in Roger Corman’s excellent race relations drama The Intruder (1962), and the actor would appear in several later films with Bronson (The Lawman, The Stone Killer) and in Elvis’ final film, Change of Habit (1969). Also among the supporting cast is Ned Glass (Experiment in Terror) as shop owner Max Lieberman, and Roy Roberts as a cantankerous tournament organizer.

The weakest parts are carried by the leading ladies: Blackman’s later scenes have her more or less reacting to other people’s material after Walter and Rose visit the local chaplain; and underrated Lola Albright plays Dolly Fletcher, Willy’s long-suffering fiancée, who finally gets fed up and leaves… but in the mandatory all-ends-swell finale accepts the marriage proposal she’s been awaiting for 3 years. Rose’s half-ownership in the family boxing camp doesn’t entitle her to any decision making scenes, but Dolly remains Willy’s moral compass, sharply reminding him when he’s straying too far and being a shit.

In addition to the casting, another pleasant surprise is the lone feature film script William Fay, a steady writer for myriad TV series. The scenes flow, the dialogue is often delightfully witty, and enough meaty speeches were parceled out to the superb cast, allowing the lead men plenty of moments to make their impact.

The film does close on a quick & happy note – Walter and Rose kiss as the title song rises up – but fans of crime films know perfectly well things can’t end well for Willy: he may have done the honorable thing and had the crooks arrested, but he did lose them a fortune and will testify in court for the state, and living in a relatively insular town may well enable displeased investors to send one or two hitmen for payback. But why quibble over a lack of realism?

Phil Karlson’s direction is very assured, and he covers the boxing matches with a mix of medium shots and many long-held close-ups – the latter not to hide Elvis’ footwork, but emphasize Walter peculiar ability to take headshots like a ‘barn door.’ Walter bleeds but never falters, and Burnett Guffey’s camera is often inches from Elvis’ face as the hits come in straight, hard succession.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a fine transfer and balanced mono music mix, and Jeff Alexander’s underscore is isolated in a separate music & effects track. The songs are also included on the track, but being a standard M&E mix, there are dips in volume when there’s onscreen dialogue.

The trailer shamelessly plays up the 6-track RCA 10” LP fans should buy, blows the tournament with spoiler shots, and emphasizes the musical numbers that are kind of snuck into odd little places throughout the film. The strangest musical sequence remains the ridiculous Main Titles, which has Elvis sitting on the folded-down platform of a roving Mayflower moving truck, singin’ and slapping his legs in a sequence that logically should’ve sent anyone tumbling straight into oncoming traffic. In the shots where Elvis was clearly riding the truck, he’s perfectly calm, but you wonder if he was thinking quietly ‘This is the dumbest idea yet from the Colonel!’

Elvis would make another 21 feature films within a 7 year period before going back to concerts and touring, but Kid Galahad shows the versatile performer in his filmic prime, proving he could offer so much to simple characters, and deserved more challenging & rewarding parts instead of cookie cutter roles in uninspired pastiches.

Phil Karlson was an underrated director who made several genre films and worked in episodic TV after a strong of taut suspense dramas in the 1940s and 1950s (namely Scandal Sheet and Kansas City Confidential), and although he’s best know for the late career hit Walking Tall (1973) and the Matt Helm entries The Silencers (1966) and The Wrecking Crew (1968), one of his best works is Hornet’s Nest (1970) in which a U.S. soldier recruits orphans to help blow up a damn during WWII.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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