Walter Newman’s script adroitly updates Frances Marion’s original scenario, placing down-and-out boxer Jon Voight as a horse handler in Florida, accompanied by sprig Ricky Schroder. An inveterate gambler and drinker, Voight doesn’t hit the comeback trail until ex-wife Faye Dunaway, now a society matron, reappears to threaten his and Schroder’s buddy-buddy relationship.
Even those unfamiliar with the 1931 pic will feel resonances in the current Champ and in this edition Schroder projects a comparable emotional range and depth.
Most debatable, and in some respects unsettling, aspects of the update concern the Voight-Dunaway characters and relationships.
But Voight, under Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, has adopted an accent and outlook that seems at odds with the setting, and seriously weakens the credibility of a relationship between him and the elegant Dunaway.
1979: Nomination: Best Original Score