Monthly Film Bulletin- Dec 1980 - vol 47 no 563 - by Richard Combs

Day of the Fight

U.S.A., 1951

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Dist-Kingston. p.c-Stanley Kubrick. p-Jay Bonafield. sc/ph-Stanley Kubrick. ed-Julian Bergman. m Gerald Fried. sd-Stanley Kubrick. comm-Robert Rein. narrator Douglas Edwards. with-Walter Cartier, Vincent Cartier, Nate Fleiseher. 579 ft. 16 mins. (16 mm.).

A commentator relates some facts and figures about the sport of boxing - nine million dollars are spent annually by fight fans in the U.S.; of the 6,000 professional boxers, only 600 make a living at it and only 60 a good living - and comments on the spectacle ("the primitive, vicarious, visceral thrill of seeing one animal overcome another"). One boxer, New York middleweight Walter Cartier, is then followed through a day of preparations for a fight. He wakes at 6.00 a.m. in the three-room apartment where he lives with an aunt; goes to communion with his identical twin Vincent (a lawyer who acts as his manager and spends the last days before a fight constantly at his side); eats a large meal, plays with his dog, and waits anxiously for night to fall. He is weighed in by the New Jersey Athletic Commission, and at 8.00 p.m. begins his dressing-room preparations with Vincent's help. At 10.00 p.m. he enters the ring and eventually emerges the victor (". . . a man who literally has to fight for his very existence - for him it's the end of a working day").

Day of the Fight, Kubrick's first venture as a film-maker, was made while he was working as a photographer for Look. The project reputedly came about when a friend of Kubrick's - then office-boy at "March of Time", subsequently film director Alexander Singer - heard that his employers were paying $40,000 for eight or nine-minute documentary shorts. Kubrick, who had earlier done a photo story on boxer Walter Cartier for Look, made Day of the Fight for $3,900, but was subsequently only able to sell it to RKO for a little less than that. Startlingly, the film proves to be not so much a rough draft as a perfect miniature of the feature films that were to follow. Admittedly, before the portrait proper begins, the commentary has already established a suitably - not to say luridly - doom-laden atmosphere in its descriptions of the fight game and the cheap thrills it provides the rubber knees and the touch of claret, call it blood if you will, somebody else's blood ). But Kubrick's images then lend more than a hint of apocalypse, and of a genuinely agonised determinism, to an hour-by-hour account of Cartier's wait for yet another encounter in a succession of fights which he must keep on winning in order to remain even modestly successful in his profession. By the end, a blow-by-blow account of the fight itself has become superfluous: it would be tautological pain. The time-lock structure of course anticipates - and in a way bests - The Killing; the deserted, early-morning streets are as haunted as the similarly used locations in Killer's Kiss. But the film's most extraordinary visual troucaille is also its most mundane. The glum-faced Cartier twins, waking in the same bed in the morning, walking to communion, sharing the anxieties and (reputedly) the physical pain of the fight, are the cinema's most affecting image (until The Shining?) for the duplication - perpetuation - of human struggle and misery.

Copyright - The British Film Institute