Ring of Passion (1978)
“These days being a German and a Nazi are the same thing”, Max Schmeling's Jewish manager tells his charge. Such was the burden borne by the boxer. World Heavyweight Champion from 1930 to 1932, Hitler had been in power for over three years by the time he fought Joe Louis in 1936. When the two met for a rematch two years later, the world was on the brink of war. Hearst papers attribute racist quotes to Schmeling which the public and Louis swallow whole.
Through a series of expositions, flashbacks and internal dialogue (some during the fights themselves), Ring of Passion delivers considerable insight into the character and motivations of its protagonists. Though Bernie Casey is too old for the role of the young and upcoming Louis, he invests a quiet dignity into his portrayal of an uncomplicated man who simply hopes to set himself up financially once his boxing days are over. The sympathetic depiction of Schmeling is significantly enhanced by Stephen Macht, whose performance achingly conveys the boxer’s confusion at the hatred directed at him and his frustration that he is unable to correct the record.
A strong supporting cast adds to the biopic’s overall quality which, despite the limitations that accompany a 1970’s made-for-TV movie, effectively captures the period in which it is set. Allen Garfield and Joseph Campanella add the necessary gravitas as opposing sportswriters Damon Runyon and Paul Gallico, who comment on proceedings like an ancient Greek chorus, and even Britt Ekland is effective as Schmeling’s wife, Czech actress Anny Ondra. The only weaknesses are the inadequate casting of Hitler and one or two Nazi’s who seem to have strolled off the set of Hogan’s Heroes to deliver their linez in Sherman acksents.
These events were later depicted in the German-US coproduction Joe and Max.
as Joe Louis
as Max Schmeling
as Anny Ondra
as Paul Gallico
Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not tell Joe Louis that he was “a credit to his race, the human race”. That line was attributed to sportswriter Jimmy Cannon.