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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: December 12th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1942

Gentleman Jim - Warner Archive Collection

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: David Krauss
One of Errol Flynn's most entertaining films, Gentleman Jim chronicles the rise of 19th-century boxer James G. Corbett from amateur to heavyweight champ. Rousing fight scenes, rollicking comedy, and a battle-of-the-sexes romance highlight director Raoul Walsh's film, which has been lovingly restored by Warner Archive. A remastered 4K transfer struck from the original nitrate camera negative, robust audio, and some vintage supplements make this release a knockout. Highly Recommended.

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL NITRATE CAMERA NEGATIVE (2023)
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
104
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Subtitles/Captions:
Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Special Features:
Warner Bros Cartoons: ‘The Dover Boys at Pimento University,’ ‘Foney Fables,’ ‘Hobby Horse-Laffs’, Vintage Radio Adaptation with Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith, Original Theatrical Trailer
Release Date:
December 12th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Errol Flynn swashbuckled his way through countless films during Hollywood's Golden Age, but the role that fit him like a (boxing) glove was that of 19th-century heavyweight champ James G. Corbett in the 1942 biopic Gentleman Jim. Flynn often called the part one of his favorites and it's easy to see why. Portraying Corbett allowed the star to show off his charm, athleticism, and physique, all of which contribute to the breezy nature of director Raoul Walsh's rollicking film.

Loosely based on Corbett's autobiography, Gentleman Jim charts Corbett's rise from a bank teller in 1887 San Francisco to an innovative fighter who revolutionized the sport with his fleet feet and nimble manner. He was also a part-time actor and debonair gadabout with a king-sized ego, which leads him into a battle of the sexes with beautiful socialite Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith), a fictional character who fosters his career while hoping he'll get the whooping in the ring she believes he so richly deserves. Throughout their verbal sparring, which is almost as entertaining as Jim's physical bouts with his boxing opponents, sparks fly and...well, you can guess the rest.

There's really not much plot to Gentleman Jim, but there's plenty of action and atmosphere. Flynn trained hard in an effort to emulate Corbett's distinctive style - so hard he suffered a mild heart attack during shooting - resulting in thrilling fight sequences that look about as realistic as any in the history of film. Flynn had some boxing experience early in life, so a double was rarely used, and while we don't see much in the way of blood á la Rocky and Raging Bull, few punches feel pulled. Ward Bond, who plays the brawny, blustery John L. Sullivan, the long-reigning heavyweight champion Corbett dethrones in the climactic bout, matches Flynn jab for jab, despite being amusingly flummoxed by his agility.

Outside the ring, Walsh finely depicts "The Gay Nineties," an era he also lovingly saluted in The Strawberry Blonde the year before. From blue-collar bars to the stuffy elegance of high society, Walsh not so subtly spoofs the foibles and mores of the period but makes sure the sets and costumes are authentic. Though the script by Vincent Lawrence (who would write just two more screenplays before his death in 1946 at age 57) and Horace McCoy (who's best known for writing the novel that spawned They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) meanders, it provides colorful parts for Warner Bros' stable of character actors, all of whom try their best to grab attention.

Jack Carson really goes to town as Jim's best pal Walter Lowrie, mugging to the nth degree yet still filing a delightful performance. The always reliable Alan Hale comes in a close second as Jim's proud papa, a boisterous Irishman who vociferously cheers his son on to victory. (I was shocked to discover the movie's jovial portrait of Jim's parents was pure fantasy. In real life, his father suffered from depression and sadly killed his wife and then himself in a grisly murder-suicide.) A pre-I Love Lucy William Frawley shines as Jim's cigar-chomping manager and eagle eyes will spot Auntie Em, I mean Clara Blandick, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit, but it's Bond who steals the show as the gruff, burly, outspoken Sullivan. His tear-jerking speech at the end of the film supplies Gentleman Jim with the heart it otherwise lacks and gives Bond, who has a whopping 278 film credits on IMDb, arguably his best screen moments.

As always, Flynn cuts a dashing figure, looking equally at ease in both his 1890s finery and boxing trunks. He also creates terrific chemistry with the ravishing Smith, who was a mere 21 years old at the time and appearing in her second of four films with Flynn. Her sophistication and dry line readings nicely offset Flynn's devil-may-care braggadocio and the two make not only an attractive couple, but a believable one as well. Smith can't quite supplant Olivia de Havilland, who memorably co-starred with Flynn in eight pictures, but she's the next best thing.

Gentleman Jim may honor a heavyweight, but its wispy story puts the film firmly in the flyweight category. Still, this romanticized biopic sails along on the strength of its fight sequences, the star power of Flynn and Smith, the sterling supporting performances, its infectious period flavor, and a heart-tugging penultimate scene. That's enough to spell solid entertainment in anyone's book.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Gentleman Jim arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

A brand new HD master struck from a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative yields another pitch-perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Warner Archive. Beautifully resolved grain lends the image a lovely sheen without sacrificing a film-like appearance, while lush blacks, bright, stable whites, and nicely varied grays produce a picture that's packed with detail and features palpable depth. Background elements are easy to discern, shadow delineation is quite good, and sharp close-ups showcase sweat, facial hair, and Smith's immaculate complexion. Costume fabrics and period decor are distinct and no digital anomalies disrupt the seamless flow of this top-notch transfer. I don't own the 2007 DVD, but it's impossible to image Gentleman Jim looking any better than it does here.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound that's devoid of any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of the crowd noise and music score by Heinz Roemheld (who would win an Oscar the very same year for Yankee Doodle Dandy) with ease and all the dialogue is well prioritized and comprehendible. Sonic accents like horse hooves on cobblestones, police whistles, and - of course - a barrage of fisticuffs are crisp and no distortion creeps into the mix. This is a solid track that complements the video well.

Special Features

Ranking:

Warner Archive imports a vintage cartoon from the 2007 DVD, but leaves the rest of the Warner Night at the Movies package from that disc behind. A couple of other cartoons, a radio adaptation, and the film's original trailer have been added to create a satisfying supplemental package.

  • Vintage Cartoon: The Dover Boys at Pimento University (HD, 9 minutes) - This offbeat, often hilarious 1942 Looney Tunes short takes us back to the 1890s and spoofs old-time melodramas as it chronicles the exploits of college boys Tom, Dick, and Larry, a damsel in distress named Dora, and a dastardly, mustachioed villain.

  • Vintage Cartoon: Foney Fables (HD, 8 minutes) - Such classic fairy tales as Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Old Mother Hubbard are amusingly spoofed in this 1942 Looney Tunes cartoon.

  • Vintage Cartoon: Hobby Horse-Laffs (HD, 7 minutes) - This black-and-white 1942 Looney Tunes short examines an array of hobbies like gardening, fitness, magic, music, and inventing with tongue firmly in cheek.

  • Vintage Radio Adaptation (30 minutes) - Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, and Ward Bond reprise their roles in this (very) truncated adaptation of the film. Grant Withers takes over Jack Carson's part. Though the boxing sequences don't translate well to the audio medium, the banter between Flynn and Smith remains intact and retains its sparkle. A bit of scripted banter at the close of the show adds some wartime context.

  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview promises "the grandest story of the naughty 'nineties' becomes the gayest picture of the fighting 'forties'!"

Final Thoughts

There's not much substance to Gentleman Jim, but Flynn's winning personality, some rousing fight scenes, a crackerjack script, and plenty of period atmosphere make this highly fictionalized biopic a breezy delight. The dazzling transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative adds luster to this release that also boasts robust remastered audio and a nice array of vintage supplements. Highly Recommended.

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