William Holden’s debut. He plays a violin protégé turned boxer, egged on by his manager’s mistress, played by Barbara Stanwyck. Lee J. Cobb plays Holden’s disappointed father.
I liked Holden in his role. He brings an authentic combination of physicality and sensitivity to the part, along with a welcome lack of theatrics in his character’s impetuous behavior. And he’s got great chemistry with top-billed Stanwyck, who sizzles in her vampy role.
But I struggled with the film’s stagy presentation. The talky script proffers crackling dialogue early but devolves into soliloquies. Lee J. Cobb’s performance might have captivated a playhouse, but the camera’s intimacy renders it emotive and betrays the artifice of the twenty-seven-year-old actor playing Holden’s father.
It’s not until the climactic boxing sequence—the only fight sequence the film proffers—that the film shows instead of tells. Shot in a large arena packed with extras as spectators, the bout looks realistic and brutal. It conveys a sense of spectacle a stage production couldn’t match.
So it’s frustrating. For every electric moment between Holden and Stanwyck, we get overwrought Cobb playing to the back rows. For every chilling line Joseph Calleia delivers as a mobster, we get reams of dialogue from Holden’s brother-in-law. A tighter edit might have helped, but as-is Golden Boy disappoints.