Tue 7 Apr 2015
IRON MAN. Universal International, 1951. Jeff Chandler, Evelyn Keyes, Stephen McNally, Rock Hudson, Joyce Holden, Jim Backus, Jim Arness. Based on the novel by W. R. Burnett (1930). Director: Joseph Pevney.
During his film career, Jeff Chandler portrayed a wide array of diverse and exotic characters. These include a Jewish resistance leader in Palestine, Cochise, a Bedouin horseman, and U.S. Army general.
Add boxer to that list.
In Iron Man, a 1951 remake of a Tod Browning film of the same name, Chandler portrays Coke Mason, a coal miner who takes up professional boxing. But he’s not just any run of the mill pugilist. No. Coke Mason is an emotionally immature, mad dog consumed with unbridled rage. He’s type of boxer who fights dirty, one whom the gawking crowds just love to hate. He’s the eponymous “Iron Man.”
Coke’s not a particularly easy character to like, but then again he’s not designed to be. That is, until we realize what’s motivating him and who’s taking financial advantage of his clumsy, but deadly, boxing abilities. To that extent, Iron Man is as much a criticism of professional boxing as it is a character study of a flawed, albeit all too human, man who finds himself betrayed and manipulated by those he most trusted.
Directed by Joseph Pevney, Iron Man at times feels a little too much like a soap opera. The film hints at the dark side of human nature, but never satisfactorily explores it. Forget the black and white cinematography and the doomed protagonist; this is not a crime film or a film noir. It’s merely an average, although perfectly entertaining, 1950s sports film.
While Chandler is less convincing as a boxer when in the ring, he’s quite good at portraying the emotional tumult of an intellectually ambitious, but professionally limited man still scarred from a tough childhood in a bleak coal mining town. Look for a youthful Rock Hudson as Speed O’Keefe, Coke’s sparring partner turned rival, who becomes an agent of change for the title character.
As to whether the Chandler-Hudson boxing match is believable or not, I will defer judgment to those more familiar with boxing and with boxing films.