Directed by Robert Rossen and starring John Garfield as Charles Davis, this is the story of a men that goes against the wishes of his mother and becomes a boxer. During his success time Charles Davis needs to deal an unethical promoter named Roberts who tempts the boxer with a number of vices.
“After all the assorted prizefight pictures that have been paraded across the screen—after all the pugs and muggs and chorus girls and double-crosses and last-round comebacks that we’ve seen—it hardly seemed likely that another could possibly come along with enough zing and character to it to captivate and excite us for two hours. Yet “Body and Soul” has up and done it, with interest and excitement to spare, and we heartily recommend it in its present exhibition at the Globe.Granted that Abraham Polonsky, who wrote the original script, betrays more than passing acquaintance with other prize-fight stories that have gone before. Granted that the whole domestic background and emotional conflict of his battered young pugilist follows quite closely the pattern of Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy.” Granted that much of the cruelty of the “fight racket” that he reveals seems to reflect the basic thesis of Budd Schulberg’s “The Harder They Fall” and that the corkscrew twist in his climax is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand.” (Mr. Polonsky, we understand, is an ex-lawyer, so we feel confident that his legal skirts are clear.)Still he’s written his story with such flavor and such slashing fidelity to the cold and greedy nature of the fight game, and Robert Rossen has directed it with such an honest regard for human feelings and with such a searching and seeing camera, that any possible resemblance to other fight yarns, living or dead, may be gratefully allowed.And John Garfield gives a rattling good performance as the steel-trap fighter through whose dissipated mind there flashes his career of money-chasing and bland two-timing on the eve of his last go—a career which has seen him rise swiftly from the pool-rooms of the lower East Side and from the home of a poor but proud mother to the middleweight championship of the world, only to waste his dough in reckless ???g, to forsake his boyhood pal and to kick the one girl who truly loves him in the teeth, not once but several times. Trim, taut and full of vitality, Mr. Garfield really acts like a fresh kid who thinks the whole world is an easy set-up—until the fates close inexorably in, until the wraps are ripped from his illusions and he finds himself owned, body and soul.In this ugly illustration of the fight game, Lloyd Goff also does a withering job as a slick operator who runs the business, William Conrad is revolting as a punk and Joseph Pevney is appropriately tinhorn, but good-hearted, as a small-time hanger-on. It is Canada Lee, however, who brings to focus the horrible pathos of the cruelly exploited prizefighter. As a Negro ex-champ who is meanly shoved aside, until one night he finally goes berserk and dies slugging in a deserted ring, he shows through great dignity and reticence the full measure of his inarticulate scorn for the greed of shrewder men who have enslaved him, sapped his strength and then tossed him out to die. The inclusion of this portrait is one of the finer things about this film.But a great deal of credit for the feeling and the fascination of the whole must be given to Lilli Palmer, who plays the girl of the golden boy. For Miss Palmer, by her ardor and sincerity, by her warm adaptability to the mood of the haunting Johnny Green torch-song from which the film derives its name and musical theme, supplies that fine touch of genuine sentiment that counterpoints the violence and the greed. She is in tandem with Anne Revere’s grave East Side mother, in eloquent contrast to Hazel Brooks’ gold-digging tramp.Altogether this Enterprise picture rolls up a round-by-round triumph on points until it comes through with a climactic knockout that hits the all-time high in throat-catching fight films.” says Bosley Crowther to the New York Times.