Films

Peeling a giant onion so very, very slowly

THE CHAMP Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Lawrence O’Toole April 16 1979
Films

Peeling a giant onion so very, very slowly

THE CHAMP Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Lawrence O’Toole April 16 1979

Peeling a giant onion so very, very slowly

Films

THE CHAMP Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

About the only calamity not in The Champ is someone’s grandmother being run over by a truck as she hobbles across the road with cookies for an ailing friend. This waterlogged remake of the 1931 King Vidor classic with Wallace Beery as the washed-up fighter and Jackie Cooper as his adoring son produces an effect similar to what might be expected from a giant onion being peeled slowly. The first problem, of a multitude of them, is that it was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, an Italian whose relationship with the English language is strained; the second is screenwriter Walter Newman, an American who may actually someday strike up a passing acquaintanceship with it. Nonetheless, The Champ will reduce millions to tears.

Washed-up fighter Billy Flynn (Jon Voight) now works at the track at Hialeah with his son T.J. (it is played by a scrubbed cherub named Ricky Schrod-

er ). Billy is a no-good blowhard, a harddrinking slob, a loving father. Along comes Mom (Faye Dunaway), who deserted them two years ago. Faye has since married well (Arthur Hill) and has found fashion (large floppy hats and gorgeous Theodora Von Runkle dresses). Being a mother, she naturally wishes to cleave the child back to her bosom. Billy, however, tells T.J. she’s a tramp, but then decides her crowd is better for the kid. After winning a Teddy bear for T.J.in a shooting gallery, he picks the kid up at Faye’s. Faye and her crowd have given T.J. an expensive saddle. Billy, ashamed as a father, drops the Teddy bear from the side of the car so the kid can’t see it. By this time there shouldn’t be a dry eye—nor an intelligent mind—in the house. Billy makes the ultimate sacrifice and rejects the kid even though his heart is breaking. The kid returns and Billy makes another ultimate sacrifice: he

goes back into the ring to provide for the child’s future.

Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet, also a TV life of Jesus), who is also an opera director, keeps piling climax on top of climax, hoping to reach the Everest of emotion. Voight, with a pug-Brando voice, does decent work, but he has been directed to play to the gallery. Faye would be well advised to invest in contraception, considering the lousy luck she had as a mother last time—in Chinatown. The eye of the emotional hurricane is Ricky Schroder. It cwies and it’s cute. It is also extwemely talented. It is also an astonishing source of water. It is a widdle bit fwightening.

Lawrence O’Toole