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Film / Golden Boy (1939)

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Golden Boy is a 1939 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, and a young, smooth-faced William Holden in his Star-Making Role. It was adapted from Clifford Odets' Broadway play of the same name.

Boxing manager Tom Moody (Menjou) and his Girl Friday/mistress Lorna Moon (Stanwyck) are in a bind after their fighter gets hurt while sparring—Tom happens to still be married and needs $5000 for his divorce, which he can't get without a fighter to promote. Enter Joe Bonaparte (Holden), the sparring partner who hurt their boxer. Bonaparte wants a shot at the big time, so Moody takes him on and starts getting him fights.

Joe's father is violently opposed to his becoming a boxer. What Tom and Lorna don't know is that Joe also happens to be an accomplished violinist, and his father has long cherished dreams of Joe making it as a musician. To get an indecisive Joe to commit to boxing, Tom pushes Lorna at him. Unfortunately for Tom, Lorna starts falling for Joe for real.

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In 1982, four months after William Holden's death, Stanwyck was given an honorary Academy Award. She closed her speech with a shout-out to Holden, saying "I loved him very much, and I miss him. He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish".


Tropes:

  • Casualty in the Ring: Joe kills his opponent, a black fighter with the Stage Name of "Chocolate Drop".
  • Divorce in Reno: Tom is finally freed of his wife when she gets a boyfriend and goes to Reno for a divorce.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A society lady acts horrified at the big fight and talks about how terrible it is. When her husband suggests they leave, she says "What, and miss the rest of it?"
  • Love Triangle: Tom, Joe, and Lorna, with Lorna falling in love with Joe.
  • Malaproper: Roxy Lewis, Moody's comic relief sidekick, is an endless source of these. ("He leaves us standing here in our brevities!")
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  • Missing Mom: Where's Joe's mom?
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Joe is horrified when his bout with Chocolate Drop ends with Chocolate Drop's death. He quits boxing immediately.
  • No Name Given: Joe's father is only ever addressed as "Papa".
  • Spinning Paper: Used during the Time Passes Montage to indicate that Joe's boxing career is going well.
  • Sports Stories: A would-be violinist who tires of struggle and decides to make it as a boxer.
  • Time Passes Montage: A montage of Joe fighting various fights, with some Spinning Papers to indicate that Joe is winning.
  • Title Drop: From Fuseli at the end, who sarcastically calls Joe "the Golden Boy" when Joe says he's quitting boxing.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Fuseli is obviously supposed to be the villain—he's a mobster, Moody is appalled at the prospect of Fuseli managing Joe, Lorna recoils from Joe when he accepts Fuseli's mentorship, and in the last scene a repentant Joe calls Fuseli a "gutter rat". But Fuseli never actually does anything bad. He doesn't fix the fight, or try to talk Joe into Throwing the Fight. He actually is a better manager than Moody, using his connections to get Joe big-time fight in Madison Square Garden and a shot at the title. He doesn't use force to muscle Moody out, instead paying him fairly for his interest in Joe. And he doesn't even try and stop Joe from quitting boxing at the end, although he's pretty pissed off about it.
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