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.
But 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.