Classic Video Showplace

The Joe Louis Story

Share This Post

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.


As part of the Astound TV Network’s celebration of Black History Month, here at the “Showplace” we are putting the spotlight on African American actors who excelled not just on the big and small screens but those who also inspired change with their courage and perseverance.


The Joe Louis Story is another great treasure in cinematic history.  It is not only an entertaining presentation of one of boxing’s most legendary figures but it also presents a cold, yet realistic view of the racism and discrimination that existed in the mid-20th century.

Louis would hold the honor of world heavyweight champion for 12 years, longer than any other boxer in history.

The 1953 biopic chronicles the life and challenges of Joe Louis.  As a teenager, Joe started hearing about the sport of boxing from his childhood friend, Jimmy, who persuaded him to train with a local manager.

An early dramatic scene in the film occurs when Joe’s mother discovers that her son has been boxing behind her back and without her permission.  Hilda Simms delivers a powerful message inspiring Joe to follow his dreams, regardless of the adversity and to use all his mind and strength to go after whatever he truly thinks is important to him.

In addition to relentless challenges of discrimination towards Louis exhibited in the film, his story recounts the brutal fighting schedule that he was put through, fighting as many as five professional fights within a four-week span.  A recurring theme throughout the film is dealing with the “two strikes” many African-Americans face in society.

A large portion of the film–and a key moment in Louis’ life–focus on his fight and the resulting fallout from his fight with Max Schmeling, who had direct ties to Adolf Hilter in the years leading up to World War II.

The movie also makes you feel like you are reliving the boxing matches with Louis in the ring.  The film incorporates real-life archival footage using the real boxers, juxtaposed with long, uncut takes of the boxing scenes, without enhanced sound effects or announcers’ voice-overs, highlighting more realistic views of watching a prize fight in person.

The beginning of the film begins uniquely with clips of boxing fans seen waiting for a fight to begin, only to cut to a scene in a newspaper room where two reporters are discussing a huge fight from earlier in the evening.  While the reporter who witnessed the fight wants to write the recap of the fight, the senior reporter intercedes and announces that he’s going to tell the “real story” of Joe Louis, as the opening credits quickly follow.

Paul Stewart was cast as the senior reporter who narrates the review of Joe’s “true” story. (Film buffs will recognize Stewart’s voice as he ushered the immortal lines, “Rosebud…I’ll tell you about, Rosebud” in Citizen Kane.)

Coley Wallace–who portrays Louis–was a former boxer himself and even defeated heavyweight prize fighter “Rocky” Marciano in a split decision before the former became an actor.  Ironically, Louis faced Marciano at the end of his career – that fight served as the movie’s climax.

Many famous names make appearances as themselves throughout the film, including boxer Shorty Linton, legendary jazz pianist Ellis Larkin and vocalist Anita Ellis, who was the real voice behind the great singing in the classic film, Gilda, and not Rita Hayworth, as was originally believed.

The film also stars James Johnson Edwards who portrays Louis’s confidante and manager, Jack “Chappie” Blackburn.  Edwards received acclaim for his role as Private Peter Moss, a black soldier in the 1949 film, Home of the Brave, in which his character experiences racial prejudices while fighting in the Pacific during WWII.

Robert Gordon, who directed the film, is also known to cinema fans as he portrayed a 13-year old Jackie Rabinowitz, the lead character in 1927’s The Jazz Singer – the first ever “talking” motion picture.

Be on the lookout for The Joe Louis Story, shown in a special presentation of the “ATVN Movie Vault Extra,” airing on the Astound TV Network.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.