Andrew Gallimore’s The Gentleman Prizefighter opened up Saturday’s proceedings at Stranger Than Fiction. Gallimore is building an impressive body of work in the documentary field recently giving us The Treaty 1921. Gallimore won his second IFTA last year for In Sunshine or in Shadow, which traced Barry McGuigan’s rise to the top in the ’80s, with the backdrop of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, culminating in his memorable fight against Eusebio Pedroza to win the WBA featherweight title in June 1985.
This followed on from his earlier IFTA success for Troid Fhuilteach (A Bloody Canvas) about the Irish boxer Mike McTigue, who came back to Ireland from America and fought Battling Siki on St Patrick’s Day in 1923 in the middle of the Civil War, to win the world light-heavyweight title.
With The Gentleman Prizefighter, Gallimore returns once more to the ring, this time to tell the story of Irish-American boxer Jim Corbett (1866–1933), who became the first gloved heavyweight champion of the world when he beat John L. Sullivan over 21 rounds in 1892. Based on Patrick Myler’s 1998 biography the resulting film is an engrossing and revealing portrait of a man who became champion of the world around the same time as the birth of film, and the documentary (amongst other things) provides a fascinating insight into the connection between the two as boxing began to help shape cinema’s populist status.
Indeed Corbett become something of star himself using his renowned image to become an actor in plays, on vaudeville, taking his one-man shows on the road and in films. He wrote his autobiography The Roar of the Crowd in 1894 which was made into the film, Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn as Corbett in 1942.
Both director Andrew Gallimore and author Patrick Myler were on hand after the film to provide even more insight into this fascinating character and into the film itself. Gallimore saying how amazed he was to discover so much archive footage of a man who’s been dead nearly 80 years. Some of the most striking footage was film of Corbett’s 1897 fight against Bob Fitzsimmons, which features such Wild West characters as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.
The Gentleman Prizefighter is an engaging portrait of a larger than life character who occupies such an important place in boxing history and played such a major role in the formation of boxing as we know it today.
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