The Greatest (1977)

PG | 101 mins | Biography | 20 May 1977

Director:

Tom Gries

Producer:

John Marshall

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling, Jr.

Production Designer:

Bob Smith

Production Company:

M. V. Productions
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HISTORY

The opening credits claim that the 1975 book, The Greatest: My Own Story, upon which the film is based, was written by “Muhammad Ali, Herbert Muhammad and Richard Durham.” However, the Library of Congress does not recognize Herbert Muhammad as one of the writers, and the book itself lists the authors as “Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham.” The 5 Nov 1975 LAT reported that Durham, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, based the book on “140 taped interviews with Ali.”
       End credits contain the following memorium: “Tom Gries, the director of The Greatest, passed away on January 3, 1977. This motion picture is dedicated to his memory.”
       After meeting Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas, NV, producer John Marshall spent three years getting the boxer to commit to the project, the 6 Nov 1975 DV and 14 Nov 1976 LAT noted. According to the 8 May 1974 DV, Budd Schulberg was an early screenwriter, and a London stockbrokerage, Vickers de Costa, put up the film’s then-estimated $2.5-million budget. However, Schulberg is not credited onscreen and the 14 Nov 1976 LAT reported that Columbia Pictures solely bankrolled the film for $5 million.
       The 26 Feb 1976 Box announced that Marshall launched a nationwide search to find “a teenage Muhammad Ali lookalike” to play the young Cassius Clay.
       The 30 Sep 1976 DV reported that The Greatest was set to begin filming in Miami Beach, FL, on 6 Oct 1976. The 18 Dec 1976 LAT listed the film’s locations as Louisville, KY; Miami, FL; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, ... More Less

The opening credits claim that the 1975 book, The Greatest: My Own Story, upon which the film is based, was written by “Muhammad Ali, Herbert Muhammad and Richard Durham.” However, the Library of Congress does not recognize Herbert Muhammad as one of the writers, and the book itself lists the authors as “Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham.” The 5 Nov 1975 LAT reported that Durham, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, based the book on “140 taped interviews with Ali.”
       End credits contain the following memorium: “Tom Gries, the director of The Greatest, passed away on January 3, 1977. This motion picture is dedicated to his memory.”
       After meeting Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas, NV, producer John Marshall spent three years getting the boxer to commit to the project, the 6 Nov 1975 DV and 14 Nov 1976 LAT noted. According to the 8 May 1974 DV, Budd Schulberg was an early screenwriter, and a London stockbrokerage, Vickers de Costa, put up the film’s then-estimated $2.5-million budget. However, Schulberg is not credited onscreen and the 14 Nov 1976 LAT reported that Columbia Pictures solely bankrolled the film for $5 million.
       The 26 Feb 1976 Box announced that Marshall launched a nationwide search to find “a teenage Muhammad Ali lookalike” to play the young Cassius Clay.
       The 30 Sep 1976 DV reported that The Greatest was set to begin filming in Miami Beach, FL, on 6 Oct 1976. The 18 Dec 1976 LAT listed the film’s locations as Louisville, KY; Miami, FL; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Atlanta, GA; and Las Vegas, NV.
       The film incorporated footage of Ali’s real fights with Jerry Quarry, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Buster Mathis, George Chuvalo, Bob Foster, Joe Bugner, and George Foreman, who are listed in the Cast. The real Sonny Liston is listed as not being credited onscreen, but his character, as played by Roger E. Mosley, is.
       Dates of important events were never given or alluded to during the film, but the narrative covers the years between 1960 (Cassius Clay's Olympic victory in Rome, Italy) to 1974 (Ali's Zaire, Africa, match with George Foreman). His upset victory over Sonny Liston and his conversion to the Nation of Islam occurred in 1964; he was drafted in 1967; and the Supreme Court overturned his draft evasion conviction in 1971.
       Because Muhammad Ali’s first wife refused to give permission to be portrayed in the film, she was represented by a fictionalized girl friend, the 14 Nov 1976 LAT noted. During production, Ali’s second and then current wife, Khalilah Ali, nee Belinda Boyd, who was sympathetically portrayed as “Belinda Ali” in The Greatest, charged him with adultery and “extreme mental cruelty,” threatened divorce, and got a restraining order preventing her husband from “squandering” the $6 million he earned in his Sep 1976 bout with Ken Norton, according to the 18 Oct 1976 Time. She divorced Ali the following year.
       The 15 May 1977 LAT reported that Muhammad Ali and other celebrities attended the premiere of The Greatest on 19 May 1977 in Century City, CA.
       The film’s theme song, “The Greatest Love Of All,” was a modest pop success for George Benson in 1977. Nine years later, in 1986, singer Whitney Houston recorded a number-one pop version of the song.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Feb 1976.
---
Daily Variety
8 May 1974.
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1975.
---
Daily Variety
30 Sep 1976.
---
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1977
p. 3, 21.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jul 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Nov 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Nov 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 May 1977
Section T, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
19 May 1977
p. 14.
New York Times
21 May 1977.
---
Time
18 Oct 1976.
---
Variety
25 May 1977
p. 21.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-starring:
as
Special appearance in alphabetical order:
as
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Columbia/EMI Presentation
A John Marshall Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr & Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Still photog
1st asst cam/Gaffer
Best boy
Elec
Key grip
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
2d prop man
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus ed
Mus orch and cond
Addl music performed by
Addl arrangements by
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd mixer
Boom man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Spec asst
Scr supv
Prod secy
Asst to prod
Prod asst
Asst auditor
CMS unit driver
Bus driver
Transportation
Project dir
Unit pub
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali, Herbert Muhammad, and Richard Durham (New York, 1975).
SONGS
"The Greatest Love Of All,"sung by George Benson, music by Michael Masser, lyrics by Linda Creed
"I Always Knew I Had It In Me," sung by George Benson, music by Michael Masser, lyrics by Gerry Goffin
"The Twist," written by Hank Ballard.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 May 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 19 May 1977
New York opening: 20 May 1977
Production Date:
began 6 October 1976 in Miami Beach, Florida
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Filmed with Panavision Equipment®
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

When Cassius Clay wins a boxing gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, he returns home to Louisville, Kentucky, as a hero. Several prominent white residents form a consortium to sponsor his bid for a professional boxing career, but a racist incident at a country club reminds Cassius where he stands in local society, and he throws his gold medal into the Ohio River. Working with trainer Angelo Dundee and fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco, Cassius wins a series of bouts, drawing media attention with his ability to recite humorous poetry and “call the round” in which he knocks out his opponents. One evening, Cassius picks up an attractive blonde prostitute and drives her to an apartment building, but as she hurries to her door across the street, Cassius is waylaid by several black men from the nearby Muhammad’s Temple of Islam who convince him he would be better off meeting Malcolm X than cavorting with white women. Inside the storefront temple, Cassius is mesmerized by Malcolm X’s black nationalist message that the “white man” had taken away his name, his culture, his language, and, most important, his religion. Later, Drew “Bundini” Brown, formerly a promoter for Sugar Ray Robinson and other great black boxers, joins Cassius’s organization and counsels him that he must stop doing small-time fights and directly challenge heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Cassius campaigns against Liston, insults him in the media, confronts him in a Las Vegas, Nevada, casino, and harasses him at his house until the champion agrees to fight. Cassius travels to Miami, Florida, to train for the match. Running in a park, he meets a pretty black woman named Ruby Sanderson and dates her. ... +


When Cassius Clay wins a boxing gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, he returns home to Louisville, Kentucky, as a hero. Several prominent white residents form a consortium to sponsor his bid for a professional boxing career, but a racist incident at a country club reminds Cassius where he stands in local society, and he throws his gold medal into the Ohio River. Working with trainer Angelo Dundee and fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco, Cassius wins a series of bouts, drawing media attention with his ability to recite humorous poetry and “call the round” in which he knocks out his opponents. One evening, Cassius picks up an attractive blonde prostitute and drives her to an apartment building, but as she hurries to her door across the street, Cassius is waylaid by several black men from the nearby Muhammad’s Temple of Islam who convince him he would be better off meeting Malcolm X than cavorting with white women. Inside the storefront temple, Cassius is mesmerized by Malcolm X’s black nationalist message that the “white man” had taken away his name, his culture, his language, and, most important, his religion. Later, Drew “Bundini” Brown, formerly a promoter for Sugar Ray Robinson and other great black boxers, joins Cassius’s organization and counsels him that he must stop doing small-time fights and directly challenge heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Cassius campaigns against Liston, insults him in the media, confronts him in a Las Vegas, Nevada, casino, and harasses him at his house until the champion agrees to fight. Cassius travels to Miami, Florida, to train for the match. Running in a park, he meets a pretty black woman named Ruby Sanderson and dates her. Malcolm X and several other Nation of Islam members arrive in town to join Cassius's entourage, which worries Angelo Dundee because the press has branded Malcolm X “the most dangerous man in America,” and any association with him could hurt Cassius’s boxing career. Bill McDonald, the promoter for the upcoming fight with Liston, threatens to call off the event if Cassius does not denounce the Nation of Islam, but when Cassius walks out and prepares to leave town, McDonald apologizes and asks only that Cassius wait until after the Liston fight to announce that he has joined the Nation of Islam. Following his upset knockout victory over Liston, Cassius reveals his religious conversion to the press and announces that Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, has personally given him a new name, Muhammad Ali, to replace his “slave name.” Furthermore, Herbert Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, is now his manager. At a celebratory party, Ali confronts Ruby, now his girl friend, and tells her he does not want her to wear makeup or revealing dresses around other men, and when he rips off her short skirt, she leaves him. During Herbert’s renegotiation of Ali’s financial arrangement with boxing promoters, one of the men hints that something bad might befall Ali, and Herbert replies that if anything happens to Ali or his friends, the Nation of Islam will shut down their fights. Later, at a Muslim bakery, Ali approaches Belinda Boyd, a modestly dressed young woman he saw earlier at a mosque, and asks her for a date. When the Selective Service reclassifies Ali as eligible for the military draft and inducts him into the Vietnam War, Ali creates a media storm by calling himself a conscientious objector and refusing to fight a white man’s war against another race. A federal judge sentences Ali to five years in prison and fines him $10,000 for draft evasion. When Ali’s lawyer appeals the case, the legal expenses cost Ali's life savings and he cannot replenish his funds because the boxing commission has taken away both his license and his World Heavyweight title. Despite Ali’s reduced circumstances, Belinda agrees to marry him, and he provides income by speaking to college students and others protesting the war. When the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, invites Ali to fight there despite his unlicensed status, Ali’s promoters set up a match with a white boxer named Jerry Quarry. While Ali trains at a rural Georgia retreat, racists shoot at his cabin and threaten to kill him. He defeats Quarry, and when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns his conviction by recognizing his conscientious objector status, Ali regains his boxing license. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier beats him at Madison Square Garden in New York, however, and Ali must work his way back to a rematch by taking what Angelo Dundee calls “junk fights.” After a series of victories, Ali’s jaw is broken by Ken Norton, and Belinda is hospitalized for shock. She tells Ali that she cannot watch him fight anymore because she “feels every blow” he takes. Rather than quit, Ali trains harder and wins a rematch with Norton, but the only way he can regain his World Heavyweight Championship title is to fight George Foreman. Overruling the warnings of his manager and trainer, Ali agrees to meet the stronger, more brutal Foreman in Zaire, Africa. In the early rounds, Ali takes a pounding, but he assures Angelo that he is letting the larger man “punch himself out,” and when the eighth round begins, Ali attacks the exhausted Foreman with a flurry of jabs, knocking him out and winning back the heavyweight crown he lost seven years earlier.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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