“Keep this mug in his cage.”
Following a bitter losing fight at the ringside, boxing promoter, Nick Donati (Edward G. Robinson) and his girlfriend, ‘Fluff’ (Bette Davis), host a party in a hotel. An altercation takes place when rival promoter, Turkey (Humphrey Bogart) crashes the party. This incident brings attention to a handsome, well-built bellhop. The bellhop, Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris), is straight off the farm. Donati is looking for a new fighter, and Guisenberry’s raw talent promises a great deal.
This film’s strength comes from complex characterizations, and superb acting. Nick is a fascinating character. His girlfriend, Fluff, has more class than the peroxide blondes who squawk in other scenes. She seems a mis-match for Nick, but perhaps that’s because there’s more to him than meets the eye. Nick is a good son and a good brother (he keeps his Italian family stashed far away from the taint of the fight scene), and Nick’s sister, Maria (Jane Bryan) attends convent school. Nick navigates both worlds–the farm and the boxing scene–with confidence and a clear aim. Nick’s goal is to find a perfect fighter who will always submit to his advice, and he’s sure that when he finds such a fighter, the partnership will take them both to the championship. Fluff’s role is to persuade Ward–renamed Kid Galahad–to fight for Nick, but in the process, she falls in love with the naive farm boy.
There are several instances when Nick allows personal feelings to come before ambition, so it’s unpredictable just what he will do when he discovers that Kid Galahad is courting Maria. Maria is strictly off limits for Nick’s boxing crowd. Throughout Kid Galahad’s relationship with Fluff and Nick, his innocence acts as a protective shell. Kid Galahad believes in Nick, and Nick believes in his fighter. Will Nick allow his personal feelings against Kid Galahad to supersede his personal ambitions?
Humphrey Bogart has a relatively small role as the sleazy gangster turned boxing promoter, Turkey Morgan. Turkey is brutish, and he may have a legitimate operation, but he certainly isn’t averse to fixing a fight. Turkey’s main fighter is Chuck McGraw, a troglodyte who thirsts for revenge against Kid Galahad. The film’s weakness comes from the character of Kid Galahad. He’s extremely naive, and sometimes his scenes are a little grating (Elvis Presley took this role in the 1962 remake). Kid Galahad is an excellent film with an engrossing story, and it remains one of the best boxing films ever made.