Friday, July 8, 2016

Baer, Rosenbloom in The Champs Step Out

Review by Doug Gibson

In another of Plan9Crunch's occasional review of lesser-known Columbia comedy shorts, we take a look at 1951's "The Champs Step Out," starring a comedy team of former boxing champions, heavyweight Max Baer and light heavyweight "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom.

Both were well past their fighting days but they keep their own names and play themselves in this short. They have a detective agency called Kayo; subtle, isn't it. The short does have some impressive credits, though. The better half of Columbia's factory, Hugh McCollum's, produced "Champ Steps Out" and it's directed by my favorite Columbia director, Edward Bernds, and penned by Elwood Ullman.

The talented Emile Sitka and attractive foil Jean Willes have key supporting roles. Except for some toughs who have uncredited bit parts, it's a four-cast short. The plot: Professor Bentley (Sitka) is a nervous wreck. His collection of priceless artifacts, including a couple of "priceless" Ming vases, are unguarded. His sexy assistant/secretary Miss Pearson (Willes) tries to calm him.

The professor sees an as for the detective agency and decides to call on them. (When he hears their names he says, "that rings a bell," ... more subtle humor.) He identifies himself as a "collector." Maxie, thinking he collects bills, throws him out twice. Eventually, the boys are hired to go to the professor's home, where moronic Rosenbloom breaks one of his Ming vases. Baer flirts with Willes, who slips him a mickey. We find out that Willes is in cahoots to rob the professor with a couple of toughs and it's up to our ex-fighters, who throw their share of punches, to stop them.

This is not a bad short; it's better than I anticipated. I'm a big boxing fan, or I probably would have passed on it. It's a semi-pleasant diversion, but it's not really funny. I counted two laughs. Once, when Willes coos to Baer that she likes him, saying "I adore your type, sort of ugly good looking," which is kind of true. The second laugh comes when Rosenbloom gets his tie knocked off his shirt by an errant bullet fired by one of the baddies. He'd tossed the gun, thinking it was unloaded.

As mentioned, Sitka and Willes do their usually effective support. Baer and Rosenbloom, unfortunately, are not great actors. I was surprised the latter was not effective because he had a long career in film and was a stage comic. Baer is actually the better of the two in this short. He underplays his role, allowing the small amount of charm and gusto he has to provide humor and a quick pace.

Rosenbloom is just plain mediocre; he tries to play 60 percent Curly and 40 percent Larry to Baer's "Moe"-sh persona and it doesn't work. He does have a very small amount of "aw shucks" charm that carries him through the two reels.

According to Ed Watz and Ted Okuda in "The Columbia Comedy Shorts," Baer and Rosenbloom were the last comedy team signed by Columbia. They made four shorts. For a long time none were available but YouTube brought us this one to enjoy.

Baer won the world heavyweight championship by KOing Primo Carnera in 1934. He lost the title a year later in a huge upset to James J. Braddock. That story was told in the 2005 film "Cinderella Man." In an otherwise above-average film, Baer's reputation was unfairly impugned. He was depicted as a boorish, sadistic, sexist brute, which he was not. After losing the title Baer appeared finished after Joe Louis knocked him out but he recovered and stayed a contender for several more years, finishing in 1941.

Rosenbloom fought an incredible 274 bouts over a 16-year career that ended in 1939. He won the world heavyweight title in 1930 defeating Jimmy Slattery. There was far less money in that division than the heavyweights and Rosenbloom fought heavyweights, but never received a shot at that title. Both he and Baer were champions at the same time for a few months in 1934.

The pair never met in the ring.

Watch a fine version of "The Champs Step Out" above courtesy of The Shorts Department.

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