Plot: The world of boxing is a goldmine, as not only do spectators show up in droves to watch the action, but the wagers involved are often substantial. But it attracts a less than ideal element, both in the stands and in the ring, which can lead to police raids and the general public’s distaste of the sport. In an effort to draw in a new crowd and take the sport down a more legitimate path, new rules have been implemented and promoters want a new breed of fighter, men that won’t come off as criminals or thugs. One such man turns out to be Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn), a bank teller with a knack for self promotion, not to mention some remarkable pugilistic skills. In between rounds of beating up his family members, Corbett finds success in the ring, but the challenge of world class boxer John L. Sullivan looms.
Entertainment Value: This boxing tale is loosely based on the real life events of Jim Corbett, recounting the rise of the sport from an illegal curio to a reputable sport that entertained millions. The movie has some dramatic elements, but plays mostly like a light comedy, driven by Errol Flynn’s excellent performance. I liked seeing all the old school exercise equipment and methods, not the least of which are the ridiculous outfits worn at the local gym. These are a combination of low rent superhero costumes and professional wrestling attire, fun stuff. The story is simple, but effective and follows Corbett as he beats up his family, flirts with a seemingly uninterested woman, and puts on some epic level bravado and self promotion. The real life Corbett is often described as a quiet, respectful man, so this brash, over the top portrayal might not be accurate, but it is fun to watch. The boxing scenes are well staged and look more realistic than I expected, with Flynn doing his own ring work, except for some of the closeups of the footwork involved. The movie features a good amount of fisticuffs as well, including a wild match on a ship that leads to one of the men getting thrown into the drink, rising out of the water, and scoring a knockout in response.
The fights are a lot of fun, but the real draw here is Errol Flynn and he dials up the swagger to unprecedented levels. His performance here is dripping with confidence, to the point you almost want to see him get knocked down a peg, a sentiment shared by some within the movie itself. But even if you hope he gets his head punched off, his role here is a great one and he is immense fun to watch. Alexis Smith is also quite good here as a potential love interest, while Jack Carson, Alan Hale, Ward Bond, and John Loder have memorable supporting roles. The cast is a solid and fairly deep ensemble, so no real weak links in this chain. Gentleman Jim has solid appeal to anyone interested in boxing, inspired by real life stories, or those who appreciate epic displays of bold confidence, as Flynn nails his role to near perfection.