Many times, a boy looks up to his father no matter what faults he possesses. That’s certainly the case here in The Champ. Andy ‘The Champ’ (Wallace Beery) was once a heavy-weight champion boxer but has since become washed up within a mixture of alcohol and gambling. Always by Andy’s side is his young son, Dink (Jackie Cooper), who loves his father to no end despite the drinking and gambling.
It seems these adult activities and training for the next boxing match are all Dink knows, and shape the relationship with his father. When Andy is tossing dice, he has Dink right beside him as a good luck charm and Dink is honored to spit on his dice for luck. After a long night of booze, Dink is the one who gets Andy ready for bed and he doesn’t seem to mind, except for when a night’s binge costs them a new boxing match.
When Andy’s ex-wife meets Dink at the racetrack, she becomes concerned that Andy’s lifestyle is becoming too negative of an influence on her son. She tells Dink that she is his mother, but he’s less than excited about it. When she offers to let Dink live with her and her new husband and daughter in their nice big house for half of the year, both Andy and Dink refuse until Andy is thrown in jail in Tijuana. That’s when he finally realizes that he’s not what’s best for the boy. But it’s going to take something big to break up this father-son team.
Wallace Beery brings an Oscar winning performance in his portrayal of Andy. We see him drink, be drunk, blow big opportunities and disappoint his son. There is genuine sorrow on his face when he realizes what he’s done, but won’t let himself wallow. Beery won’t let us completely dislike Andy, not the way he always tells Dink to keep his chin up. Berry also channels a good father into Andy, one that may not be so good at leading by example, but has a good heart and wants to see his son happy.
That’s where some of the films greatest moments come from, those small heartfelt talks between father and son. Throughout the film, every positive step Andy takes is all for his son, even if Dink doesn’t realize it. That’s what makes this a good film, the fact that we can’t completely write Andy off as a bad father.
Part of me wants to recommend this as a nice movie for a father-son day, but the ending is less than warm and fuzzy. But I do consider it a good family film where kids can get a grasp on the consequences of bad decisions.
“Hey, come on down to Tijuana some time and I’ll show you around.”