The Great White Hope (film)
|The Great White Hope|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Martin Ritt|
|Produced by||Lawrence Turman|
|Screenplay by||Howard Sackler|
The Great White Hope|
by Howard Sackler
James Earl Jones|
|Music by||Lionel Newman|
|Edited by||William Reynolds|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|October 11, 1970|
The film was directed by Martin Ritt, starring James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Chester Morris, Hal Holbrook, Beah Richards and Moses Gunn. Jones and Alexander, who also appeared in the same roles in the stage versions, both received Best Actor and Actress Academy Award nominations for their performances.
The film and play is based on the true story of Jack Johnson and his first wife, Etta Terry Duryea. The controversy over their marriage and Duryea's death by suicide in 1912.
Set between 1910 and 1915, the story follows Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones; patterned after real-life boxer Jack Johnson) going on a hot streak of victories in the boxing ring as he defeats every white boxer around. Soon the press and racists announce the search for a "great white hope", a boxer who will defeat Jefferson for the heavyweight title. Meanwhile, Jefferson prepares for a few more matches, but he lets his guard down by courting the beautiful (and very white) Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander), and when everyone, including Jack's black "wife", discover this, the tensions grow to fever pitch. Jack's close black friends become scared over his pushing the envelope of success and the white authorities conspire to frame him with unlawful sexual relations with Eleanor and thereby take away his title. It leads to jealousy, a run from the law, and finally, disaster.
- James Earl Jones as Jack Johnson
- Jane Alexander as Eleanor Bachman
- Chester Morris as Pop Weaver
- Hal Holbrook as Al Cameron
- Beah Richards as Mama Tiny
- Moses Gunn as Scipio
- Lou Gilbert as Goldie
- Robert Webber as Dixon
The film opened to positive responses from both audiences and critics. They especially loved the performances of both James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, who were in the original stage play: they won Tonys for the play. Jones would get bigger roles after this film, and Alexander made a debut here. Jones later contributed commentary to a documentary about Jack Johnson that would sum up this film, saying: "To know the story of Jack Johnson is to know that it is a study in hubris."
However, critical opinion of the film has declined in recent years. The Great White Hope currently maintains a 43% "Rotten" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating mixed-to-negative reviews. Critic Vincent Canby referred to the film as "One of those liberal, well-meaning, fervently uncontroversial works that pretend to tackle contemporary problems by finding analogies at a safe remove in history" while critic Emanuel Levy wrote "The movie is too theatrical and every idea is spelled out for the audience."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p256
- Clive Barnes (1968-10-04). "Theater: Howard Sackler's 'Great White Hope'" (PDF). The New York Times.
- Vincent Canby (1970-10-12). "'Great White Hope' Brought to Screen". The New York Times.
- Sackler, Howard (1968). The Great White Hope, A Play. New York, NY: The Dial Press, Inc. OCLC 451597.
- Unforgivable Blackness accessed 11/5/2016
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- The Great White Hope at the Internet Movie Database
- The Great White Hope at AllMovie
- The Great White Hope at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Great White Hope at the Internet Broadway Database