Detroit Stadium, September 20, 1939
Film Transfer, Silent 10 Minutes
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.
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.
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.