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Golden Boy by Clifford Odets
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's review
Apr 14, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: drama
Read in April, 2010

Odets, Clifford. GOLDEN BOY. (1937). ****. In this drama, Odets got down off his high labor horse and addressed the plight of a man trying to find himself. Although the theme and setting are a little time-worn, perhaps they weren’t back in 1937. It’s the story of Joe Bonaparte, the younger son of the Bonaparte family, Italian-Americans living in New York. Joe, who was just twenty-one, was in love with music, and was probably the best amateur violinist in the city. One day he comes home and announces that he wants to be a boxer; temporarily giving up his potential career in music. Joe really doesn’t know what he wants to do, but isn’t afraid to try something different if it means he might find himself. He hooks up with a manager, Tom Moody, who is looking for his next contender. Tom is a lightweight and has managed to pick up enough boxing skills to impress Moody. Moody agrees to take him on, and assigns Tokio as his trainer. Joe then meets Moody’s girlfriend, Lorna Moon, and ultimately falls in love with her. She’s after the main chance, however, and is engaged to Moody and plans to marry him as soon as he gets his divorce from his current wife. Joe manages to win most of his first several fights, but can do better – according to his trainer – if he would only put his heart into it. Joe tends to pull his punches and beat his opponents through the application of science rather than brute force. Turns out that he’s worried about breaking his hands. If that happens, he would never be able go back to his music. He has to be talked out of music and into boxing exclusively in order to become champion material. He eventually moves up the ladder, but only because Lorna manages to make him see that he is a fighter first, rather than a musician. The two fall in love, but Lorna still won’t let him get to second base as long as she has a chance to marry Moody. In the final act, in a bout that – if he wins – will lead to a shot at the title, Joe accidently knocks out his opponent with a punch that kills him. Joe now has to rethink his whole career path, and what boxing really means to him and what he means to it. There appears to be a lot of Hollywood influence in this play, both as to setting and character. There’s Joe’s father, an old Italian who is wise to the ways of the world. There’s a shady character on the scene, too; Eddie Fuseli, a man-about-town and a gunman who is connected and muscles in on Joe’s talent by buying a piece of him. There is a momentary appearance of Joe’s older brother, a union organizer for the CIO. He doesn’t add anything to the drama, but he shows up briefly and lets the world know that he’s doing something that he loves; something that will make a difference. Basically, the play is about man’s alienation from society and what he will do to find himself and fit in with the rest. To most people this usually means making the big bucks and having something to show for it. Respect is directly proportional to what and how much you have. Recommended.

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