Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Louis vs Tony “Two Ton” Galento 1939

Joe Louis vs Tony “Two Ton” Galento
World Heavyweight Championship
Yankee Stadium, New York, June 28, 1939
16mm Sound, Theatrical Release

The Fight
The more I learn about Tony Galento, the more I like him, though I still wouldn’t have rooted for him.  He was one of the roughest, meanest boxers ever, who made the most of his tools, which included a tank-like physique, an iron chin, a clubbing left hook and general contempt for his opponents.  He was one of the most colorful boxers of any era, who understood that humor mixed with attitude sells tickets.  Galento’s boxing record is mixed, but after a string of knockouts, Tony was signed to fight champion Joe Louis in 1939.  Few gave the New Jersey bar owner a “f’n” chance.  But Galento roared into Louis in the first round, and took it to the champ for the following three.  In the third round, Galento caught Louis with a left hook, and partly off balance, Louis went down for a one count.  By the Fourth round Louis had learned to punch inside Galento’s left hook, and at point blank range, the Brown Bomber cut Tony to pieces.

The Film
The film of this fight has been circulated and shown on TV for years, but most often as a 10 minute highlight.  This edition of the film is the complete theatrical version that was shown movie theatres in 1939, which includes all four rounds, as well as pre and post fight, plus interviews.  Before acquiring this 16mm print, I had never seen the prefight instructions, which includes Tony’s complaints about Louis’s hair not being wiped down.  Showing no respect, Galento runs his glove across Louis’s head.  Louis’s trainer, Joe Blackburn responds by reaching over to wipe Galento’s head in retaliation.  If Louis was intimidated, he didn’t show it.

The Restoration
Most prints of this fight film are poor, stark and overexposed.  The 16mm print I have is above average in quality. Sections appear well photographed, while others are bright or very dark.  This is not the entire film, but I have included the rarely seen portions.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tunney-Dempsey Audience Film Surfaces | A Window In Time

A Window In Time.  Tunney-Dempsey 1927, audience film.

Gene Tunney vs Jack Dempsey II
World Heavyweight Championship
Chicago, September 22, 1927
16mm Black and White Audience Film
**This film is currently being archived, and will be shown pending licensing.

The Fight
I’ve written about the second Tunney-Dempsey fight on this blog before, showing the “Long Count” in real time.  The Long Count is one of the most famous moments in boxing history, and the fight was well documented by a commercial film crew.  However, among the 104,943 people attending the fight, was a fan with a 16mm camera. 

The Film
Amateur films taken at fights are not unheard of, but rarely seen.  In the days before video, 8mm and 16mm home movies were family keepsakes, almost never copied or distributed.  Three examples of audience movies that have come to light include the ringside film of the LaMotta-Cerdan fight (16mm film shot by a fan) as well as 8mm audience films of Graziano-Zale II and Marciano-Vingo.  In those cases, the home movies were the only film documentations of the fight.

The Camera
The average person owning a movie camera was extremely rare in 1927, let alone successfully filming a night time sporting event.  16mm had been introduced by Kodak four years earlier in 1923.  8mm would not be on the market until 1932.   Kodak produced 16mm stock on safety film, and not nitrate, which helped this footage survive decades of storage.  Judging from the frame rate, the camera had a spring driven motor, running the shutter at approximately 16-20fps.  The film is well preserved.  It has dried somewhat over the years, making it stiff, but not inflexible.  There’s also some shrinkage and emulsion stains, but otherwise the film is remarkably clean and free of scratches.  The film speed is unknown, but was likely low (perhaps 100 ASA) and was reversal film stock.  Meaning, this is not a print, but the actual film that was in the camera at the fight. 

Picture Quality
The stadium scene is very dark, but the exposure setting was in range for the brightly lit boxing ring.  The fighters, the referee and overhead lights are clearly visible. The first minute of the movie contains footage shot in the early evening outside the stadium; including silhouettes the surging crowd walking toward the camera.

Views of the Fight
This is an amateur film, photographed with a bulky hand held camera. It provides no definitive alternate view of the bout.  However, for those who are passionate about boxing history and events, the film is a window in time.  Seated on the stadium field, perhaps 20 rows from the ring, the filmmaker captures brief excerpts throughout the fight, sometimes no more than a few seconds at a time. Early in the reel, the camera peers past the head of a spectator sitting in front.  The photographer then moves closer to the ring, and to a slightly better angle, possibly the aisle.  In most shots, it appears the photographer was chasing the action, rolling film directly after a flurry or anticipating a peak in the fighting.  Still, from shot to shot, Dempsey charges in, with Tunney jabbing and countering.  In one shot between rounds, we see ring card “3” being paraded for the audience as the camera pans across the inside of the stadium, though it’s too dark to see the crowd.

The Long Count
The seller told me that the movie did not include the Long Count.  I assumed he was correct . . . until I viewed the film myself.   Toward the end of the reel, Tunney throws and misses a right, and then back off.  Having watched the commercial films of the fight many times, I’m familiar with the action and recognized this key moment.  It was definitely the seventh round.  Suddenly, the camera begins to swing around.  The view of the ring is blocked as the crowd stands.  People are on their feet, moving and waving.  The crowd is in an uproar.  As the ring comes back into view, Tunney is back on his feet, with Dempsey pursuing.  The film ends shortly after. 

I scanned and rendered the film to video, and replayed the sequence in slow motion.  It’s only a few frames long, but there they are, the fighters, on the far side of the ring; Dempsey with his back to the camera, standing over Tunney with referee Barry’s right hand in the air, and his left reaching to direct Dempsey away - The Long Count.

Despite the limited view of the fight, the thrill of this film is the audience perspective, watching the fight within a stone’s throw of the ring, surrounded by one hundred thousand cheering fans.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ezzard Charles vs Jersey Joe Walcott I 1949

Ezzard Charles vs Jersey Joe Walcott I
June 22, 1949
World Heavyweight Championship
Rounds 14-15, Kinescope

The Fight
When heavyweight contenders Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott fought for the first time, it was for the vacated title of retired champion Joe Louis. Charles won a 15 round decision in a fight that lacked the excitement that fans had expected. The two fought three more times, with Walcott winning the last two. Despite the deterioration this is historic footage, it’s a rare look at Charles at the start of his two year reign, and of Walcott bouncing back from his loss to Joe Louis a year before.

The Film
A Kinescope is a film photographed directly off a TV screen. This was the original method of recording television broadcasts until it was replaced by video tape around 1956. In fact, in the years just following the Second World War, many television programs were either not recorded or have since been lost. This fight took place during that period. Footage of the last three Charles-Walcott fights has been available for years, but images of the first fight have been scarce. However, this brief kinescope shows the last two rounds of that fight and the historic decision.

The Restoration
My original source was poor to begin with, but I was able to enhance the picture contrast, color and tone, as well as the sound. Enjoy this brief look at this rare fight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Georges Carpentier vs Wells, Papke & Grundhoven

Georges Carpentier vs Wells, Papke & Grundhoven
Pathe Newsreel Segments 1912, 1920
3 minutes 10 seconds

The Fighter
I came across these Pathe fight films which I had never seen before. It inspired me to take a fresh look Georges Carpentier, the great French boxing champion who fought internationally 1908-1926. He had his first professional fight at the age of 14 and quickly became the Golden Boy of France. At 5’11” he was a lean, crafty and skilled boxer with surprising KO power. During his career, he grew and fought from Welterweight to Heavyweight. Unfortunately he’s most remembered in the U.S. as road kill for Jack Dempsey in their famous title fight of 1921. After that bout, Carpentier and Dempsey became friends, and for years visited and celebrated the anniversaries of their fight. Carpentier also fought Gene Tunney, and did well early in their 1924 fight, but Tunney’s size and strength were too much. To add insult to the loss, Tunney fouled Carpentier with a low blow in the 14th, and Carpentier collapsed. Carpentier was also a respected referee, and can be seen, at age 20, as the third man in the ring for the Jack Johnson vs Frank Moran heavyweight title fight in Paris 1914. An irony is the fact that Carpentier was also a top heavyweight contender at the time, though he never fought Johnson.

The Film
It’s too bad this segment is so short, but it’s still a gem. Carpentier is briefly shown in action against two American middleweight boxers and a Belgian heavyweight. The fights were held in Paris. The first opponent is labeled as “Lewis”, and according to the record, this is either either Harry or Willie Lewis circa 1912. The third shows Carpentier’s KO of heavyweight Georges Grundhoven in 1920 winning the European Heavyweight title. The most significant clip is Carpentier challenging the great middleweight champion Billy Papke in 1912, who had also fought the Stanley Ketchel. We see action in the 17th round, where Carpentier has suffered a severe cut and is struggling to hold on. The fight was stopped in the next round.

The Restoration
Film speed adjusted.
Contrast improved.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Joe Louis vs Bob Pastor II 1939

Joe Louis vs Bob Pastor II
Detroit Stadium, September 20, 1939
Film Transfer, Silent 10 Minutes

The Fight
After Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938, avenging his only pro career loss, the young heavyweight champion began an uncommonly busy schedule of fights that is unfairly referred to as “The Bum of The Month Club”. This series of title fights ran through 1939-1941 and ended when faced the giant Buddy Baer, followed by former Light Heavyweight champion Bill Conn. Not since Tommy Burns world tour of 1906-1908 had a heavyweight champion been so active. Far from unworthy, most of Louis’s opponents were nonetheless outclassed by one of the most dangerous fighting machines in boxing history. This was also the depression era, and few fighters could afford the top notch trainers and support needed to prepare for such a demanding title fight. It has to be said, regardless of the results, that Louis challengers came to fight. Once such challenger was Bob Pastor, who had gone a full 10 rounds with pre-champion Louis in 1937. The feat earned him a shot at the title in September 1939. Pastor put up a spirited defense, surviving an early beating and even staged a rally in the eighth round. In the eleventh, Louis got down to business and knocked Pastor senseless.

The Film
According to The New York Times, the bout was filmed by Hollywood producer Jack Dietz using two cameras. Though I have never seen the original footage, the prints I have seen, including this one, is badly overexposed. Both Louis and Pastor appear chalky and blown out against the background. Like other fight films of the day, the movie was shown in theatres where it was a successful attraction.

The Restoration
Despite the exposure, the film still has plenty of detail. I was able to adjust the contrast, and remove much of the flaring. This increased the clarity, and correcting the film speed made the fight easier to follow. Not yet 30 years old, Louis was at the peak of his powers. He’s patient, conditioned, focused and deadly accurate with his punches. How Pastor survived the first round I’ll never know.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson 1910

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson
Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine, France, 8/7/10
French Pathe Films 6:29

The Fight
Fight films were big business at the turn of the 20th century. During this period, the Europeans were often more faithful in filming and preserving fight movies than Americans. It has long been rumored that a treasure of vintage footage in France and England has yet to be made available. However, some films have recently come to light, including this rare and amazing film of two great African American boxers in action, Sam McVea & Battling Jim Johnson, filmed in Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine, France, August 8, 1910. This same venue also hosted part of the 1910 Olympic Games.

There is some debate about the date and identity of this film. Sam McVey is easy to recognize, but some have said his opponent was either Jack Johnson or San Langford. After having researched photographs and records of the fighters, it’s clear that neither is Johnson or Langford. Jack Johnson’s record does not show him in France or fighting there in 1911. Sam Langford was in France at the time, but was much shorter than the boxer facing McVea. Photographs of Battling Johnson match the build and stance of the boxer shown in the film. There’s also the question of the date, since Johnson and McVea fought in Paris in August 1910 and again in November 1911. Here the answer is with the spectators. November in Paris is rainy and cold. The outdoor audience in the film is dressed in fashionable clothes, typical for the period in warm weather.

The fight itself begins at a pace much faster than other bouts of the day. McVea and Johnson appear skilled, conditioned and in their respective primes. A newspaper report of the fight mentions McVea as starting out smiling and confident in the opening round, and he appears this way in the film. However, Johnson takes the fight to McVea and the two are trading equally at the end of the round. It strikes me that the defensive tactical style that we associate with Jack Johnson was in fact common among African American boxers during this period. It’s thrilling to see two fighters in action.

The Film
Unfortunately this clip is very short. We see the boxers enter the ring; receive instructions, followed by the opening round. Brief portions of other rounds are also shown, but there is no continuity to the film. There are frequent cuts, and it’s impossible to tell if this was sloppy editing, or if the cameraman stopped and started the camera depending on the action. Notice at 4:52, McVea appears to be rising from a knockdown or likely a slip. It’s hard to tell if the referee was counting or just waving the fighters to resume. Pathe newsreels began in 1910, so the film may have been filmed for that purpose. In any case, the fight went to a 15 round draw. The film emulsion deteriorates and the movie comes to an end.

The original film is clear well exposed, having been shot under daylight. However, the camera was cranked very slow, so the movement runs extremely fast when projected normally. I adjusted the picture, enhancing the levels and contrast. The film speed was brought down 30% to approximate real time. Highlights are replayed in slow motion at the end.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jack Sharkey vs Jimmy Maloney IV 1927

Jack Sharkey vs Jimmy Maloney IV
Yankee Stadium, New York, May 20, 1927
Silent 10:00

The Fight
Boxing has a rich history of title eliminator or “contender” fights. Many epic battles were waged by hungry lions as they battled for title shots. Sadly many have faded into obscurity, overshadowed by the championship fights that followed. One such battle was this one, the fifth fight between heavyweights Jack Sharkey and Jimmy Maloney in 1927. The winner would be in position to challenge Champion Gene Tunney for the heavyweight title. By all accounts, Sharkey and Maloney were fierce east coast rivals. They fought four times between 1924 and 1927. For their last fight, in front of 40,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, Sharkey and Maloney wasted no time from the opening bell. A tactical slugfest with plenty of action, Maloney boxed well in the first round, but had trouble landing often enough to hurt Sharkey. By the third round Sharkey was coming on strong. The end came in the 5th round with brutal right by Sharkey that drove Maloney to the canvas.

It’s too bad that Sharkey never fought Gene Tunney. He was a much better fighter in the 1920s than in the 1930s when he briefly held the title. Sharkey not only beat Maloney, but the great Harry Wills, Johnny Risko, Tommy Loughran, Primo Carnera (in 1931) and drew with Tom Heeny. Instead Sharkey was matched in July 1927 with former champion Jack Dempsey in a runoff for the title. Sharkey was leading against Dempsey through seven rounds. In the seventh, Dempsey stunned Sharkey with a low blow, and followed with a left hook to Sharkey’s jaw. Sharkey dropped to the canvas and was counted out.

The Movie
As with most night or indoor fight films of the 1920s, the results depended on the venue and abilities of the film crew. This film is about average for the period. The shadows are heavy, but there’s enough detail to follow the action. The exposure changes from round to round, probably from different cameras, and is clearest at the end.

The print I have is clean and transferred to video with no problem. Film speed and exposure were adjusted. This is a great fight and shows future champion Jack Sharkey, perhaps at his best.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jack Dempsey Sparring for Newsreel Cameras Circa 1927

Jack Dempsey Sparring for Newsreel Cameras Circa 1927

The Fight
Jack Dempsey is shown in a late career sparring session while training for his fight with Gene Tunney or Jack Sharkey. The stadium is either Chicago (1927) or Philadelphia (1926).

The Movie
Public training and sparring for newsreel cameras were common and crucial in promoting fights of the day. In this brief clip, Jack is in tiger form and practically takes the head off his sparring partner.

The Video
The original footage ran extremely fast, as it was shot at about 12fps. I brought it down to near normal speed, though the step frame print (every third frame is repeated) still appears choppy. Exposure and tone were also adjusted. I added the knockout replay.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Joe Frazier -vs- Muhammal Ali | 40th Anniversary Film

Frazier vs Ali – New York, March 8, 1971
16mm Color Sound, 28 Minutes (Excerpt)

The Fight
On the 40th anniversary of The Fight, it’s an honor to be able to post an excerpt of the original theatrical Frazier-Ali I movie. This was the first in the Ali-Frazier trilogy. In my view it was the best. The Manila fight has become better known, having been broadcast on ESPNCL repeatedly for years. However, for youth, skill, pace and drama, the first fight brought it all.

The Movie
This film is a milestone in boxing history. Frazier-Ali I was one of the last major fights to be filmed by motion picture cameras as well as video. The cablecast of the fight remains a high watermark for recording championship fights. Those who have a copy of the video are fortunate. The copyright owners have rarely allowed the video to be rebroadcast, and it has never been commercially issued on DVD. In fact, the portions of Frazier-Ali I that were originally shown in the recent BBC “Thriller in Manila” documentary were removed from the DVD release and replaced with still photos.

The film version of Frazier-Ali I is equally remarkable. Producer William Greaves was granted unprecedented access to Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and to Madison Square Garden for the fight. Greaves 16mm film team were at ringside, in the audience and alongside the television crews. They recorded the fight from a dozen angles, including action not captured by the TV cameras, as in the 11th round when the ring ropes kept Ali from falling to the canvas. By today’s rules, it would have been ruled a knockdown. The film, more than the cablecast, captures the fury of the fight.

Within 5 days of the fight, and in great haste, this 27 minute version of the fight was shown in movie theaters. Unfortunately, it was not the entire fight, and there was a near riot in one theater. However, Greaves later released a longer and complete documentary called “The Fighters” which I was lucky to see in a theater months after the fight. Greaves has also used the footage for several films about Muhammad Ali.

The Video
I was fortunate to obtain a very good 16mm print of the original release. It’s perhaps a second generation copy, and printed on the red saturated color film stock which was typical for the day. For that I did some color correction. The film is narrated by Don Dunphy, who also called the live cablecast. The post fight footage is especially interesting. Greaves either did not have access to the PA feed, or chose to use the open air audio. I’ve been to Madison Square Garden for a title fight and it’s hard to hear the PA when the noise level is up. As a result in the film, Johnny Adie’s announcement of Frazier as the winner is nearly lost under the crowd chanting, and Dunphy, the narrator, never actually says that Frazier won the decision. I hope you enjoy this taste of the film. With respect to Greaves, I’m only showing the opening credits and Round 15.