Friday, April 3, 2015

The Other Jack the Giant Killer

Jack Sharkey vs. Primo Carnera I
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY 1931
16mm Sound Transfer
Speed and Audio Restoration

A recent article I wrote was accompanied with newsreel footage of Jack Sharkey in training for his first fight with Primo Carnera in 1931, including rare footage of Ernie Schaaf. As I described in the piece, Sharkey went on to win a 15-round decision. The victory propelled Sharkey back into contention and to his rematch with Max Schmeling for the heavyweight championship in 1932. Sharkey was given what many regard as a gift decision against Schmeling, and held the title for only one year. I was planning to move on from there, but by chance I recently found and acquired a rare 16mm print of that first Sharkey-Carnera fight.
The Film
The print arrived marked as part of the Schlitz Famous Fights TV series, which ran for a number of years beginning in the 1950s. Excerpts of this film have been circulated for some time among collectors, and versions have also been posted on YouTube, often as projector screen videos or from old VHS tapes. I wanted to show a clean telecine transfer of some of this film. A drawback of today’s boxing coverage is that it widens the gap between contemporary HD quality and the analog films of earlier eras. Younger viewers are used to seeing fights in amazing detail and have, unfortunately, less appreciation for earlier boxing. The networks today don’t help either. I’ve expressed before my frustration with ESPN for showing classic footage on an as-is basis with little or no picture restoration.

Fortunately this print arrived in excellent condition, with few breaks or scratches. The ring photography was average for the day. The exposure was dark, but the density provides some extra detail often lost in films of this period. Notably, many films made under the bright ring lights were poorly exposed, sometimes to the point of completely blowing out Irish complexions into a ghostly white. There is no live audio, but the great Sam Taub provides the narration. Most famous as a live blow-by-blow radio announcer, Taub delivers a classic style narrative of the fighters and action.

The one drawback of the film is the projection speed. As Steve Lott once explained to me, it was during the Depression of the 1930s that film stock, like most everything, was in short supply. To conserve footage, films were often taken at the silent speed of approximately 16 frames per second instead of the standard 24 frames per second established for sound movies. Movie theaters may have slowed their projectors to compensate at the time, but the surviving prints, such as this one, runs at a speedy 24fps. This is why most early 20th century fight films appear more like Keystone Cop movies than historic sports events. For this video, I not only slowed the film down to standard speed, but I kept Sam Taub’s narration is as well. If Sam sounds a little lethargic, it’s because he’s actually speaking about a third slower than normal, though I kept his voice at a natural pitch. 

“…a long way to climb to reach that chin.”—Jack Sharkey

The first Sharkey-Carnera fight was held at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, on October 12, 1931. It has largely been lost in history. It wasn’t a title fight, and the rematch two years later was an upset that forever cast a shadow over both fighters. This fight, however, appears to have been a legitimate contest and a turning point for both boxers. Carnera had come up the ranks very quickly, and suspiciously, and was still a question mark as a title contender. Sharkey needed the win to secure a rematch with Schmeling. The fight was not as close as some contemporary descriptions indicate. Despite being five inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than Carnera, Sharkey shook the bigger man repeatedly throughout the contest, including a knockdown in the fourth round. The Barrier Miner Daily wrote, “Well advised by his seconds, Sharkey continued to rip into the body, which forced Carnera to drop his guard. Then Jack would crack Carnera’s jaw so hard that he wobbled repeatedly, but did not fall. The eleventh and twelfth were like a terrier worrying a St. Bernard. Carnera was weary and staggering in the fourteenth, and just before the final bell reeled and swayed drunkenly on the verge of a knockout, as Sharkey riddled his head with lefts and rights in a tempest of battering that left him unable to defend himself.” It was a decisive win.

Primo lost the fight but won the public’s respect. He proved to be a courageous boxer, and while not a resourceful fighting machine, he was durable, strong, and very agile for a man his size. Since the entire film of the fight is nearly 50 minutes long, I’ve included only the last two rounds. I wanted to show how Sharkey closed the show. Jack had a good night, in front of 30,000 spectators who watched the match in weather “so cold that most of the spectators wore mufflers and overcoats.” Not only moving well to evade Carnera’s attacks, Sharkey was very effective at getting inside Primo’s defenses, closing the distance to finish the fight with the kind of action rarely seen today among heavyweights. At the final bell, Sharkey rejoices, discarding his mouthpiece and pushing referee Gunboat Smith aside as he follows Carnera to his corner to pay respect.


  1. OT: These are two of the all time greatest fighters. I think everyone would love a rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Question guys,is it really possible? Even though Pacquiao is now recuperating from a shoulder injured surgery, there is still a possibility for a Mayweather vs Pacquiao 2 rematch

  2. OT: I just want Manny Pacquiao to punch me just once. After a wake up I would have him sign my face! Watch this cool vid of Manny Pacquiao murdering the heavy bags at the official Manny Pacquiao Youtube Channel now!

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