*/**** Image B Sound C Extras C
starring Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich, Rosco Ates
screenplay by Francis Marion and Leonard Praskins
directed by King Vidor
by Walter Chaw So dated now as to seem nigh prehistoric, King Vidor's silent era-bound The Champ is broad melodrama of the underdog-uplift/precocious-kid variety, and though it's sorely tempting to condescend to it by placing it within its historical context, watching it now is like getting a screw drilled into your forehead. Doing road work with his lovable boy Dink (Jackie Cooper, more than a marionette, less than a creature of flesh and blood), The Champ (Wallace Beery) is a cartoon of a lush and a punch-drunk boxer who makes silly shadow-boxing gestures in long, unbroken takes, requiring Beery to ad-lib business that segues uneasily late in the film when the same Beery shtick must carry pathos. We can't think that a Vaudevillian's conception of a retarded drunk and a compulsive gambler is adorable and then reorient ourselves into thinking he's feeble without confronting the same conundrum the film itself presents a modern viewer. Either The Champ is fabulous--for a picture made in 1931, that is--or it's only accessible for a theoretical, contemporaneous audience, lacing any ascriptions of quality with that one major caveat and thus rendering them exactly as useless as that kind of equivocation always is.