The Champ (1979)

PG | 121 mins | Drama | 1979

Director:

Franco Zeffirelli

Writer:

Walter Newman

Producer:

Dyson Lovell

Cinematographer:

Fred Koenekamp

Production Designer:

Herman A. Blumenthal

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
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HISTORY

In a 27 Mar 1979 HR article, director Franco Zeffirelli said that his motivation for the project occurred while viewing a television broadcast of The Champ (1931, see entry), a film that had made an impression on him as a child. Inspired by the parallels between his own troubled upbringing and that of the young boy in the story, Zeffirelli presented the idea of a remake to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive Richard Shepherd, who had previously conveyed interest in collaborating with the Italian director. Although AMPAS Library production files stated that the film marked Zeffirelli’s first American feature, he wrote, directed and produced previous co-productions.
       Around 1971, according to a news item in the 29 Jun 1979 DV, filmmaker Mervyn LeRoy had also contemplated a remake starring Walter Matthau as the boxer and Matthau’s son, Charlie, as the child co-star.
       Prior to Jon Voight’s casting, several actors were considered for the lead. Steve McQueen was the first performer approached, as stated in a 12 Oct 1977 LAT article, and a 13 Mar 1978 LAT article reported that Robert Redford turned down the part twice. The 15 Dec 1977 HR announced that Ryan O’Neal had signed for the role, but, according to an 18 Mar 1979 LAT article, he withdrew from the project when his son, Griffin O’Neal, was not cast as “T. J.”
       The filmmakers conducted a nationwide, six-month talent search involving thousands of applicants for the part of T. J. A studio advertisement in the 20 Oct 1977 LAT announced, “MGM Wants To ... More Less

In a 27 Mar 1979 HR article, director Franco Zeffirelli said that his motivation for the project occurred while viewing a television broadcast of The Champ (1931, see entry), a film that had made an impression on him as a child. Inspired by the parallels between his own troubled upbringing and that of the young boy in the story, Zeffirelli presented the idea of a remake to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive Richard Shepherd, who had previously conveyed interest in collaborating with the Italian director. Although AMPAS Library production files stated that the film marked Zeffirelli’s first American feature, he wrote, directed and produced previous co-productions.
       Around 1971, according to a news item in the 29 Jun 1979 DV, filmmaker Mervyn LeRoy had also contemplated a remake starring Walter Matthau as the boxer and Matthau’s son, Charlie, as the child co-star.
       Prior to Jon Voight’s casting, several actors were considered for the lead. Steve McQueen was the first performer approached, as stated in a 12 Oct 1977 LAT article, and a 13 Mar 1978 LAT article reported that Robert Redford turned down the part twice. The 15 Dec 1977 HR announced that Ryan O’Neal had signed for the role, but, according to an 18 Mar 1979 LAT article, he withdrew from the project when his son, Griffin O’Neal, was not cast as “T. J.”
       The filmmakers conducted a nationwide, six-month talent search involving thousands of applicants for the part of T. J. A studio advertisement in the 20 Oct 1977 LAT announced, “MGM Wants To Meet Your Boy!” Eight year-old Ricky Schroder, who began appearing in commercials and in print advertising as a toddler, was chosen immediately after his audition, as recalled by Schroeder’s mother and Zeffirelli in a 21 May 1978 LAT article. Production notes referred to the casting as “the biggest movie part handed a male child actor in more than a decade.” In the 18 Mar 1979 LAT article, Voight said he was touched and “intrigued” by Schroder’s screen tests. The young actor’s audition was influential in Voight’s own decision to sign onto the project, after initial hesitation due to the number of boxing films in production, such as Rocky II (1979, see entry), Raging Bull (1980, see entry) and The Main Event (1979, see entry).
       A 29 Apr 1978 LAT article revealed that the female supporting role of “Annie” was revised to accommodate leading actress Faye Dunaway, who had previously starred with Voight on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire (Los Angeles, 20 Mar 1973). As noted in the article, during this phase of the project, screenplay credit was shared between writers Spencer Eastman and Walter Newman; however, Eastman is not credited onscreen.
       A May 1979 magazine article in Horizon mentioned that actor Sam Levene’s part was cut from the final version.
       According to an item in the 13 Mar 1978 LAT, Zeffirelli shot pre-production footage 1 Mar 1978 to 4 Mar 1978 at Hialeah Park in Hialeah, FL, revered as an historic and picturesque horseracing track, to take advantage of the annual Flamingo Stakes event. Hialeah’s racecourse and backstretch were also the primary backdrop during principal photography, which commenced 1 May 1978, as noted in briefs in the 1 May 1978 HR and DV.
       Production notes listed the following additional shooting locations in and around Miami, FL: the Italian Renaissance villa at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which made its film debut as the setting for Annie’s fashion show; a marina and yacht in Fort Lauderdale; and Biscayne Bay for the swimming scene with Annie and T. J. After five weeks on location in FL, the production moved to soundstages at MGM Studios in Culver City, CA, as mentioned in a 27 Jun 1978 HR brief.
       To capture the climatic boxing match, the filmmakers shot for one week at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. Using multiple cameras around the ring, Zeffirelli often filmed long takes of the fight, providing the 2,000 extras in the stands with the atmosphere of a real bout. Refusing a stunt double, Jon Voight studied boxing for one-month with trainer and technical consultant, Jimmy Gambina, who had previously worked with actor Sylvester Stallone during Rocky (1976, see entry).
       Production was completed in late Jul 1978, according to a 20 Jul 1978 HR news item.
       As announced in a 5 Mar 1979 MGM press release, a benefit premiere was held on 3 Apr 1979 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, CA, to raise funds for the construction of a Catholic church in Indian Wells, CA, to be designed by Zeffirelli.
       After five months in release, a 19 Sep 1979 DV article reported that the film had taken in $31 million at the domestic box-office, and over $17 million in worldwide earnings, making it one of MGM’s biggest international successes in the last fourteen years, led by strong grosses from the Japanese market. MGM executives were predicting that the film would rank fourth among the studio’s foreign box-office hits behind Gone With the Wind (1939, see entry), Doctor Zhivago (1965, see entry) and Ben Hur (1959, see entry). Production costs were mentioned as approximately $8 million.
       The purchase of the paperback rights for $236,500 by Dell Publishing Co. made headlines in a 16 Aug 1978 DV article because the amount was considered the highest price paid to date for a novelization of an MGM film.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Music (Original Score). Jon Voight received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and Ricky Schroder received a Golden Globe for New Star Of The Year – Actor.
       The Champ marked the feature film debut for Ricky Schroder and for professional boxer Randall Cobb, who played Billy’s opponent, “Bowers.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 May 1978.
---
Daily Variety
19 May 1978.
---
Daily Variety
16 Aug 1978.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1979
p. 3.
Horizon
May 1979
p. 19, 21-24.
Los Angeles Times
12 Oct 1977
Section G, pp. 16-17.
Los Angeles Times
20 Oct 1977
Section H, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
13 Mar 1978
Section E, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
29 Apr 1978
Section B, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
21 May 1978
Section N, p. 1, 36, 39.
Los Angeles Times
18 Mar 1979
Section O, p. 36.
Los Angeles Times
12 Apr 1979
p. 22.
New York Times
4 Apr 1979
p. 19.
Variety
28 May 1978.
---
Variety
28 Mar 1979
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
A Franco Zeffirelli Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
Dial dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Based on a story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Still photog
Still photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Gaffer
Best boy
Best boy, MGM
Lamp op
Key grip
2d grip
Dolly grip
Dolly grip, MGM
Cam op, Miami
Cam asst, Miami
Cam asst, Miami
ART DIRECTORS
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Ed consultant
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop man
Prop maker
Asst prop man, Miami
Const coord
Greensman
Painter, Miami
COSTUMES
Women`s cost
Men`s cost
Historical cost in Vizcaya fashion show from
Asst to cost des
Women`s cost
Men`s cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus consultant
SOUND
Sd ed
Boom man
Cableman
Cableman, Miami
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opticals
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair stylist for Faye Dunaway
Hairstylist
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup, Miami
Hairdresser, Miami
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit pub
Scr supv
Loc mgr-Miami
Trainer and tech consultant
Loc equipment by
Casting
Casting
Casting in New York, TNI Casting
Casting in Miami
Casting in Miami
Asst to Mr. Zeffirelli
Prod asst
Secy to prod
Craft serviceman, Miami
Craft serviceman, Miami
Loc mgr
Tech adv
Estimator
Loc auditor
Timekeeper
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt, Miami
Welfare worker, Miami
Pub consultants
DETAILS
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 April 1979
Production Date:
pre-production footage: 1 March 1978--4 March 1978 in Hialeah, Florida
principal photography: 1 May 1978--late July 1978.
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
17 April 1979
Copyright Number:
PA28285
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Filmed in Metrocolor®
Lenses/Prints
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
121
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25320
SYNOPSIS

At the Hialeah racetrack near Miami, Florida, former boxing champion Billy “The Champ” Flynn works as a horse trainer and lives in an apartment above the stables with his eight year-old son, T. J. Considering a comeback after seven years away from the sport, Billy returns to the Ninth Street Gym for a meeting with manager Charlie Goodman and brings along T. J., who is thrilled that his father, whom he idolizes and calls “Champ,” might fight again. At the gym, Billy is still revered as a boxer, and Georgie, a training assistant, has saved Billy’s old gloves. However, Billy feels disrespected when Goodman keeps him waiting, and shouts that he will return in thirty minutes, leaving his son at the gym. Later, T. J. finds his father drunk at a bar and helps him home. In the middle of the night, Billy steals $20 dollars from T. J.’s piggy bank and drives to a casino. Returning the next morning, he announces to the stable employees and T. J. that he won $6,400 and bought gifts for everyone. Just as T. J. thinks his father has forgotten him, Billy presents him with a racehorse, named “She’s a Lady.” T. J. becomes the center of attention as he rides around the stable, the proud owner of a filly. On race day at Hialeah, T. J. prepares his horse and jockey for the next heat. Nearby, Annie Phillips, a rich, successful fashion designer who is part of the society crowd in attendance, overhears T. J. bragging that “She’s a Lady” will win. Charmed by the boy's gumption, Annie promises ... +


At the Hialeah racetrack near Miami, Florida, former boxing champion Billy “The Champ” Flynn works as a horse trainer and lives in an apartment above the stables with his eight year-old son, T. J. Considering a comeback after seven years away from the sport, Billy returns to the Ninth Street Gym for a meeting with manager Charlie Goodman and brings along T. J., who is thrilled that his father, whom he idolizes and calls “Champ,” might fight again. At the gym, Billy is still revered as a boxer, and Georgie, a training assistant, has saved Billy’s old gloves. However, Billy feels disrespected when Goodman keeps him waiting, and shouts that he will return in thirty minutes, leaving his son at the gym. Later, T. J. finds his father drunk at a bar and helps him home. In the middle of the night, Billy steals $20 dollars from T. J.’s piggy bank and drives to a casino. Returning the next morning, he announces to the stable employees and T. J. that he won $6,400 and bought gifts for everyone. Just as T. J. thinks his father has forgotten him, Billy presents him with a racehorse, named “She’s a Lady.” T. J. becomes the center of attention as he rides around the stable, the proud owner of a filly. On race day at Hialeah, T. J. prepares his horse and jockey for the next heat. Nearby, Annie Phillips, a rich, successful fashion designer who is part of the society crowd in attendance, overhears T. J. bragging that “She’s a Lady” will win. Charmed by the boy's gumption, Annie promises T. J. that she will bet $10 dollars on the horse. During the race, “She’s a Lady” is on the verge of taking the lead when she falls. From the stands, Annie watches through her binoculars as T. J. runs across the track to his stricken horse. When she recognizes her ex-husband, Billy Flynn, following the boy, she realizes that T. J. is the son she left seven years before. At the stables, T. J. and Billy wait anxiously for the veterinarian to decide the fate of “She’s a Lady.” As soon as Billy sees Annie approaching, he yanks her aside to disclose that he explained her seven-year absence by telling T. J his mother had been killed in a car accident. Annie understands that she gave up custody during the divorce, but wants to see her son. T. J. interrupts their argument with the good news that his horse’s wound is only superficial. Annie reintroduces herself to T. J., but Billy takes his son and walks away. After reconsidering, Billy allows T. J. to visit Annie one afternoon, without revealing that Annie is his mother. Dressed in a suit, T. J. spends the day on the Phillips’ yacht. Afterward, he is enthusiastic about the visit, telling his father that Annie and her husband, Mike, are not snobby like most “turf clubbers.” Sometime later at a casino, Billy’s winning streak comes to an end and he incurs a debt of $2,000 dollars, which he must pay in forty-eight hours or the backer, Whitey, will take possession of “She’s a Lady.” After unsuccessfully pursuing other options, Billy borrows the money from Annie. Later, he is furious when Whitey arrives at the stables to collect T. J.’s horse, since Billy assured him that he would deliver the $2,000 dollars that afternoon. Billy pulls Whitey from the car and punches him. When security guards try to intervene, Billy attacks them until police arrive and arrest him. In jail, an attorney informs Billy that Annie wants to look after T. J. while the case is settled. Billy tells his son about the arrangement, but T. J. does not understand. To convince his devoted son that he is “a bum,” Billy declares that he is tired of taking care of T. J. and slaps him. On the yacht, Annie helps T. J. unpack when she accidently reveals that she is his mother. As she tries to explain, T. J. says that his mother is dead and screams for her to go away. After being released from jail, Billy returns to the racetrack where he sees T. J. in the stands with his suitcase. They hug, and Billy says that he will never leave again. That evening, Annie arrives at the stables to confer with Billy about T. J., since the boy will need an explanation now that he knows his mother is alive. As Billy becomes emotional about his own needs, Annie realizes that Billy still loves her. Motivated to start earning a decent living for his son, Billy commits to a boxing comeback. His former trainer, Jackie, arrives in Miami, but expresses concern about Billy’s previous blows to the head and recommends a medical evaluation. However, Billy dismisses his headaches and says he has made up his mind. Jackie agrees to help, and they begin training. Meanwhile, Billy encourages T. J. to respond to his mother’s letters. At her residence in New York City, Annie explains to her husband that she wants to be in Miami for Billy’s fight, sensing that her presence will make a difference. On the night of the match at Miami’s Forum, T. J. and Billy are excited to see Annie in the crowd. During an early round, Billy looks strong and knocks his opponent, Bowers, to the floor. In the next round, Billy receives a cut near his eye, but fights back. As the match continues, Billy is briefly knocked down and staggers to his feet, experiencing double vision. When he goes down a second time, the referee considers stopping the fight as Billy’s cut continues to bleed. Jackie and T. J. also want to end the fight, but Billy assures them he is okay. All of a sudden, Billy finds a second wind and knocks out Bowers for the victory. He holds up his son as the crowd cheers, but T. J. is alarmed by his father’s disorientated and swollen appearance. While leaning against Jackie on the way back to the locker room, Billy collapses. He lies on the table and tells his son that Annie is a good person and to be happy because he won the fight. As Billy dies, T. J. calls for “The Champ” and asks the other trainers to wake him, but Jackie announces Billy is gone. When she enters the room, Annie goes to her son and hugs him. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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