If not for love and money, very few films would be made in Hollywood. Fortunately, there is no shortage of love stories, broken hearts, money gained, and money lost. Even better, one film encompasses all of these complicated themes. Body and Soul, written by Abraham Polonsky and directed by Robert Rossen, is an award winning film noir that features boxing, money, and love.
The boxing aspects of this film are tied into love and money in several ways. First, Charley Davis, the main character played by John Garfield, becomes a boxer who finds a bit of success. His mother strongly feels that Davis shouldn’t box, but he doesn’t heed her advice or warnings and because he sees a way to earn some fast money, he begins boxing. As the film progresses, it is clear that Davis loves boxing, but he also seems to love the entitlement it is giving him as well. After Davis wins several fights, he is paired with shady promoter Roberts, played by Lloyd Gough. Davis lets Roberts put him into situations where he has moral dilemmas to face. Aligning himself with the mob allows Davis to have the opportunity to have nearly unlimited spending money, alcohol, and women. This is ironic considering his father was killed early in the film in the candy store he owned in an explosion caused by the mob.
Young Davis experienced love with this girlfriend and eventual fiancée, Peg. Peg did support his aspirations to box, much to the dismay of Davis’ mother, who would have preferred he went to college. The couple enjoyed the luxuries with sports fame such as champagne, fur coats, nights on the town, and expensive apartments. However, as Davis started to fall under the spell of Roberts, not seeing (or not wanted to see) the double crossing and manipulative paths Roberts was choosing for Davis, love wasn’t enough to hold Davis from fighting. Peg eventually forces an ultimatum on Davis: her or boxing. Davis chose boxing. He was too enthralled with money to see the value of love. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He said at one point that he was justified in what he was doing because “we’ve been working for peanuts and eatin’ ’em” (Rossen, 1947, n.p.). That was one of the ways he explained that it was acceptable to join in with Roberts. Davis went on to win more fights and continued to climb the boxing ladder of success, gaining more fame and more money. He began seeing another woman who was really only interested in his money and eventually, Davis wastes all of his money by boozing, spending it on the new woman, and gambling it away.
Toward the end of the film, the concept of money becomes more prominent. Davis is scheduled to have a big fight, and Roberts tells Davis that he needs to go all 15 rounds and then lose. Davis agrees, and he gets a large sum of money for agreeing to lose. The woman Davis had been taking around really wants this money, but Davis, for some reason, goes to Peg, who takes Davis’ money and puts in in the bank. The entire end of the movie, except for the very last scene, hinges on money. The new girlfriend wants the money, Davis took the money for agreeing to lose a big fight, Peg deposits the money for safekeeping, and Davis’ hometown area is excited about the fight and betting on Davis.
In the end, Davis decides to take the high road and not throw the fight. The fight scene palpably feels more tense as this decision is realized. He knocks out his opponent and wins the fight. Roberts, of course, is furious. The movie ends with an “and they lived happily ever after” moment with Davis and Peg. Love won out over money in this case.
The moral issues surrounding love and money in Body and Soul are nicely presented in this film. It is easy to look upon this film as a classic sports film, and it is. However, it offers much more than a good piece of sports entertainment. The themes of “good over evil” or “love conquers all” are bound into this movie, satisfying the audience with a just and happy ending.
- Rossen, R. (Director). (1947). Body and soul [Film]. New York: Enterprise Productions.