Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

Country: Germany
Director: Uwe Boll
Starring: Henry Maske, Susanne Wuest, Heino Ferch, Vladimir Weigl, Yoan Pablo Hernández
Music: Jessica de Rooij

Director Uwe Boll has a pretty poor reputation as a film director – especially amongst the gaming community, as several of his films have been disrespectful adaptations of popular games. But, I must say that Schmeling: Fist of the Reich isn’t half bad at all. It has its limitations, but generally the era is captured well, the performances are good – and most importantly, Max Schmeling is a fascinating topic for a biopic.

But in some ways, it should be no surprise that Uwe Boll should make a decent boxing film – after all, he is the man who challenged his critics to put up or shut up in an event dubbed ‘Raging Boll’! I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Boll made headlines by challenging his critics to “put up or shut up”. In June 2006, his production company issued a press release stating that Boll would challenge his five harshest critics each to a 10-round boxing match. Invitations were also open to film directors Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. To qualify, critics had to have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the Web. In 2005, footage from the fights were to be included on the DVD of his upcoming film Postal .On June 20, 2006, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka stated on Something Awful that he had been invited by Boll to be the first contestant, after Kyanka reviewed Alone in the Dark. The online gambling site GoldenPalace.com decided to sponsor this event, dubbing it “Raging Boll”. A lot was drawn up in late August 2006, featuring Kyanka, Rue Morgue magazine writer Chris Alexander, webmaster of Cinecutre Carlos Palencia Jimenez-Arguello, Ain’t it Cool News writer Jeff Sneider and Chance Minter, amateur boxer and website critic. Boll fought and won against all five participants. The first match took place on September 5, 2006 in Estepona, Spain against Carlos Palencia. The others battled on September 23, 2006 at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver.

After Kyanka lost his match, he would go on to make several allegations against Boll, including the fact that Boll refused to fight against Chance Minter (an amateur boxer), because he was an experienced boxer. However, Boll fought Minter as his fourth opponent. He also claimed that Boll misled them by claiming it was a PR stunt when he actually intended to fight them and that Boll claimed that the participants would get training before the match (which no one did). Boll had seriously wounded Sneider, who had also believed Boll.

But of course, that’s all incidental. Let’s have a look at the film. As the story begins, boxer Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) is an embarrassment to the German army, and when his unit is wiped out in Crete, it is believed that he has been killed. But Schmeling survives. As punishment for his survival, despite an injured leg, he is forced to march and English prisoner back towards his own troops. It is assumed (or hoped) that Schmeling will be shot. But instead on the track, he enters into a dialogue with his prisoner. As they walk, Schmeling recounts his story – which also explains how he became an embarrassment that the army.

The film flashes back in 1930, and Schmeling has a title shot against American boxer Jack Sharkey. Schmeling wins controversially, when Sharkey is disqualified after a vicious low blow. However, Schmeling doesn’t deal like a champion, and although he is embraced by the German ruling elite, the common citizens don’t believe he is a real champion either.

In between title defences, Schmeling courts Czech actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest). Anny is Jewish, and in the prevailing political climate in Germany at the time, her film projects are having trouble attracting funding.

In June 1932, Schmeling fights a rematch with Jack Sharkey at Madison Square Garden. Despite Schmeling’s dominance from start to finish, Sharkey is awarded the fight and the Championship belt on points. The German public are outraged.

Later, a story in a German newspaper highlights Schmeling and Anny’s relationship, which up until this point had been kept secret. Anny fears that the story will cause the end of their relationship instead Schmeling asks her to marry him. She does.

Meanwhile in the world of boxing, nobody of any worth is willing to fight Schmeling – with the exception, of course, of an up and comer named Joe Louis. Louis has a reputation as a wrecking machine, and everybody advises Schmeling not to take the fight. But Schmeling has watched a lot of footage of Louis in action and thinks he has spotted weaknesses in the ‘Brown Bomber’s’ technique.

Before the fight, Hermann Goering sends for Schmeling. He wants the fight stopped – as he thinks Schmeling will lose, and therefore would embarrass the German people. He also asks Schmeling to leave his wife, and to ditch his American trainer, who also happens to be Jewish. Schmeling refuses. But before Goering can enforce his demands, he is undermined by the Fuhrer himself, who wants to see Schmeling beat Joe Louis. When Schmeling, who goes into the fight as an unbackable underdog, defeats Louis, he becomes the toast of Germany.

Schmeling and Louis contest a rematch in 1935, but this time Louis knocks Schmeling down in little over two minutes into the first round. Now Schmeling is a national disgrace, and as punishment is called up to its service. The story picks up again at the start of the film, where it began in Crete and follows Schmeling’s life through the rest of the war and beyond.

Ultimately, Schmeling is a man who fought for himself. He wasn’t a Nazi or a politician. He was a boxer and a pretty good one at that. The fact that many boxing commentators consider the first Schmeling v Louis fight to be one of the greatest fights of the twentieth century, proves his boxing skills but it is a shame that the politic of the day should overshadow his contribution to the sport. This film does a lot to address that issue, painting Schmeling as a decent man at an indecent time. And one whose sporting achievements were hijacked for propaganda purposes.

I must confess that beyond some archival footage of Schmeling (and Louis), I do not know much about the man and cannot comment on the veracity of this film. But it seems like an earnest and sincere portrait of a man who became larger than the sports he was associated with. The film is insightful, entertaining, and the boxing scenes aren’t too bad either – without being showy. This is probably because lead actor, Henry Maske, isn’t an actor at all, but a boxer. But he does a good job in the acting stakes – and is convincing. Schmeling: Fist of the Reich, despite the lurid and inappropriate cover art (as shown above) is a solid boxing film – and if you have an interest in the sport, then I think you’ll enjoy this production.

Click here to visit the film’s official website.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

Author: Lester Ellis / Robert Drane
Publisher: ABC Books
Published: 2007

Fighting the Demons is a pretty sad book. Like many Australians, I remember when Lester Ellis became the IBF Lightweight Champion after defeating Korean, Hwan-Kil Yuh in 1985. It was televised in rural Australia, and was a major event. For Ellis, it was a meteoric rise, and the press dubbed him the ‘Master Blaster’. And as viewers, and as fans, we loved him. Australia is sports mad – particularly in Melbourne, and a sporting champion, in any discipline is treated to levels of adulation befitting a rockstar. And that was a part of the problem. Ellis was only 19 years old, and possibly not ready for all the adulation – and the ‘hangers on’ who came with the championship belt.

This book charts Ellis’ rise and his subsequent fall from grace. Although initially his fall, wasn’t that far – it was simply after he lost a title defence against fellow Australian Barry Michael, the public lost interest – despite the fact that he still had plenty of good fights (and fighting years) in front of him. It also details his battles with alcoholism. It is told in a frank, forthright style which at times can be hard to read. By that I mean, this is not a black-slapping tail of how great it is to be a world champion – or even to convey what a ‘great’ bloke he is. This story is warts and all. And at times, Ellis comes off pretty bitter, and defensive. But balancing that, he presents evidence to show how he became that way.

This book is not for everyone, and I would suggest it would be of little interest to international readers. But if you’re Australian and grew up watching the Master Blaster on television, this is a fascinating, but ultimately sad tale – although I am sure, Ellis isn’t after pity either. He is just laying it all out – take it or leave it – and I guess there’s a certain dignity in that.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

Phantom Punch (2007)

Country: Canada
Director: Robert Townsend
Starring: Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Rick Roberts
Music: Stephen James Taylor

Robert Townsend’s film, Phantom Punch, attempts to put a human face on one of the most unloved boxing champions of all time, Sonny Liston. And he almost succeeds due to the performance of Ving Rhames as Liston. However, as good as Rhames is, he is also too old for the role and not in the same physical condition that Liston was as champ. Also the fight scenes are perfunctory at best. This is one film that you would not watch if you were interested in faithful and believable fight re-creations. This is not Rocky or Raging Bull. This film works best as a drama and when Rhames is front and centre.

As the film opens, it is 1950, and Liston is in the Missouri State Penitentiary. After he whacks out a fellow prisoner, named Big Lester, who was giving Liston a hard time, he is taken under the wing of the prison Chaplin, Father Stevens (Rick Roberts). The Chaplin also happens to be in charge of the prison’s athletic program, and he steers Liston into the boxing program.

Liston keeps his nose down and earns an early release. He may have been a model prisoner, but he is still a bad man. At the time of his release he explains that there is only one thing that will keep him from returning to prison, and that is ‘knocking mother f*ckers out’.

Outside Liston goes professional, and begins the long climb through the boxing ranks, with each fight moving closer to the top. His journey is interrupted when he is sent to prison again, after he beats up two police officers. In fairness, these were two racists cops who taunted Liston and insulted him and his girlfriend. They probably deserved it. But Liston’s temper got the better of him, and he goes to prison.

Upon his release he continues his climb in the boxing game, but pretty soon reaches a glass ceiling. No one will fight him. That’s when his manager, Caesar Novak (Nick Turturro), who is tied in with the mob, uses him connections to move Liston up through the ranks and fight the real contenders. The side effect of this however, is that Liston’s reputation takes a further battering, with implications that he is involved in organised crime.

The story follows Liston as he becomes World Champion and how he fell from grace after the alleged ‘Phantom Punch’ in the second fight against Muhammed Ali.

Phantom Punch is an entertaining enough biopic, but far from brilliant. But Rhames performance gives the film a little weight, and makes the human drama more interesting than it would have been in lesser hands.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Phantom Punch (2007)