Monday, November 19, 2012

Gene Tunney -vs- Jack Dempsey 1926 (Restored Full Fight)

Gene Tunney -vs- Jack Dempsey 1926
World Heavyweight Championship
Philadelphia, PA

(Complete Fight Reconstruction/speed correction/exposure/frame aspect/image matching)

The Fight

I’ve always wanted to see the complete 1926 Dempsey-Tunney fight film.  The first of their two bouts was huge at the time, but has since been overshadowed by the rematch and “The Long Count” the following year.  I wanted to see how the first fight played out, especially how did Dempsey perform during the first couple of rounds when he was still fresh, and still believing that he was invincible?  Did Tunney really overwhelm Dempsey from the start or was it more competitive than what the newspapers said?  What does the surviving footage reveal?

A couple of years ago, film collector Tony Fosco told me he wasn’t sure that complete footage of  Tunney-Dempsey I still existed.  He claimed to have compiled most of the rounds from various sources, but not all.  Joe passed away before I saw his film.  I have since spoken to Steve Lott of Big Fights Inc, who said that only about 14 minutes exist of the 1926 fight.  This particular 14 minutes is what most people have seen over the last 70 years, from home movie shorts from Castle Films to ESPN Classic television.

The Film

A few months ago I obtained from a collector what was promised to be a copy of the complete original 1926 film.  The DVD that arrived contained a copy of the original footage, but it was from a poor washed out screen-copy that only showed rounds 1 through 6 (I’ve seen this copy on Youtube already, which has filler footage tacked on after round 6.)  The footage is poor, but it’s a good reference.  So I went back through my own film collection and discovered several short versions of this famous fight going back to when I started collecting films as a teenager.  These were editions not only from Castle Films, but Blackhawk Films, documentaries, Classic Sports, Newsreels and sports compilations.  As I went through each version, I realized that most of the material was taken from the same original theatrical fight film.  However, no two editions were exactly the same, suggesting that each version contained unique footage.

The Reconstruction

Over the following week, I rounded up the footage I had and loaded everything into my video editor.  The various sources were trimmed round by round, matching the best quality footage with the action in the original master.  Some clips showed the entire round, some clips lasting only a few seconds.  I quickly discovered that in the most common editions of the fight (Castle Films, Official Films), the rounds were completely out of order.  For instance, rounds described as 1 and 10, are actually portions of rounds 3, 5 and 9.  These were also, incidentally, the worst rounds for Dempsey.  When the editing was finished, I had partial or complete footage of every round (except for rounds 7-8 which were never issued).

** Note that the picture quality jumps back and forth as the best quality footage is inserted for that portion of the fight.

The progression of the fight went mostly as the newspapers described it.  Tunney was brilliant, and he controlled the action from beginning to end.  His strategy was to throw an endless barrage of overhand rights to slow Dempsey down.  Then Tunney would pepper Dempsey with jabs and combinations. When Jack rushed Gene to the ropes, Tunney would spin Dempsey around and hold until the referee broke them.  Tunney did this over and over again through the entire fight, and Jack never had an answer.

What about Dempsey?  Did he really look like an old tired fighter?  Having not fought in three years, Dempsey was rusty, but he was also unprepared.  In the early rounds, when Jack was still fresh, he showed flashes of his old style, and Gene struggled to control the action.  Tunney didn’t take full control of the fight until the round 3.  The biggest myth about the fight is that Jack simply held on after the early rounds and was close to being knocked out at the end.  The Dempsey I see in this film was outclassed, but he was game until the very end, and even launched a rally before the final bell.  Tunney was an absolute ironman.  Gene had to be incredibly strong to do what he did, fighting Dempsey at the same pace for 10 rounds.  I believe that even in 1926, Gene Tunney was still the only fighter in the division who would have beaten Dempsey.

I hope you enjoy seeing this great fight, as much as I enjoyed restoring it.