The Champ (King Vidor / U.S., 1931):

The palooka and the urchin, death of the Twenties and hope for the Depression. Chaplin's The Kid figures plainly in the construction, the camera is mounted on the back of a jalopy as Champ (Wallace Beery) and Dink (Jackie Cooper) shadow-box down the shrubby road to Tijuana. Another tracking shot moments later follows the tyke from the bustling street to the back of a cantina where the bulbous ex-pugilist rests slumped over a table, KO'd by old bad habits. (Afterwards the tiny lad helps his bleary father into bed in a seedy room silent but for faint honky-tonk music, a lovely bit of stillness.) Freedom is a dice throw and happiness is a horse on the racetrack, the boy's estranged socialite mother (Irene Rich) offers a change in environment. "Do you like fairy-tales?" "No!" Rough art and "good housekeeping" (Beckett), very much a King Vidor perspective, not a "weepie" but an emotive examination of tangled milieus. In his miniature suit and oversized Stetson, Dink ventures uneasily into the posh side of life, a Renoirian sequence (fancy hotels have rooftops for walking on and flower gardens to spit at) segues into a Hal Roach-style aside to the audience (the frilly "dame" the pipsqueak's sitting next to happens to be his half-sister). The raffish autonomy of the saloon is a mixed blessing, on the other hand, especially for the washed-up prizefighter running out of time: "The ground came up and socked me square in the face." A pivotal work for De Sica's SciusciÓ just as The Crowd proved pivotal for Bicycle Thieves, Rossellini revisits the child's final inconsolable circle in Germany Year Zero. (The best elucidation is Vidor's own in Stella Dallas.) With Roscoe Ates, Edward Brophy, Hale Hamilton, and Jesse Scott. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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