Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
The Prize Fighter (1979)

"Dorf gets the crap beaten out of him!"

Memory is a funny thing. When I first began writing boxing movie reviews for this site, I started by compiling a list of "must review" titles. This had the dual benefit of organizing my efforts and providing me with proof that boxing movies as a sub-genre would contain enough titles to keep my interest. Obviously (to me anyway) the sport of boxing has managed to find its way into just about every type of movie, from dramas to comedies, action thrillers to film noir, even westerns and musicals. My movie list is full of possibilities now, and I'll have enough review subjects to last for a very long time. But when I first started writing the list, amongst the obvious choices like "Rocky" and "Raging Bull", I included a trite little comedy entitled "The Prize Fighter". I can remember seeing the movie as a child and finding it endlessly hilarious. Tim Conway and Don Knotts together? How could it miss?! In my mind it couldn't and it HAD to be reviewed.

Conway and Knotts formed a bit of a comedy duo in the mid-to-late 70's, usually starring as a couple of down-on-their-luck, not-so-sharp characters, with Knotts playing the only marginally brighter straight man of sorts to Conway's more physical antics. They first came together in 1975 for Disney in "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and then appeared in a few more Disney titles, like "Gus" (1976) and "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again" (1979). The partnership ended with 1981's "The Private Eyes". Their combined efforts were basically children's fare, 'G' and 'PG' rated movies that found their way into my family's VCR as entertainment for my younger brother and I. Knotts and Conway also appeared in two of my favorite TV shows, "Three's Company" and "The Carol Burnett Show". Knotts, as the perpetually leisure-suited and neckerchiefed Mr. Furley, and Conway, in an array of characters (my favorite being his chronically shuffling 'Old Man'), were staples in my adolescent viewing schedule. I grew up with these 2 guys, and I still find their antics on those shows funny today. But "The Prize Fighter" was a different scenario all together. This was a film that I hadn't seen in at least 20 years. Could I trust my pre-teen sense of humor? Would this be as funny today as it was back then?

Shake (Knotts) and Bags (Conway) are a couple of highly unsuccessful fight trainers who are, believe it or not, down on their luck (and I hate to get digressive so early in a review, but where did they come up with these names? 'Shake' and 'Bags'? They seemed vaguely dirty to my more mature ears during this viewing. Does that mean
I'M dirty?). Anyway, these two are down to their last dime, so they head to the carnival to see if they can finagle their way towards some more money or, at the very least, get some dinner for the evening. After a fruitless attempt at tricking a guess-your-weight booth, Shake convinces Bags to try his luck at one of the other carnival attractions, a "Take A Shot At The Champ" game, where you get a cash prize for lasting a pre-determined amount of time in the boxing ring with some big goon (sorry I don't have the exact prize amount or number of minutes/rounds Bags needed to last here. Knotts and Conway were doing so much mugging and double-taking at this point that I lost all sense of detail noting.) Anyway, Bags agrees to fight. It just so happens that a gangster named Mr. Mike (played by Robin Clarke) is watching the fight and decides that he wants it fixed in Bags' favor. He tells his henchman Flower (Irwin Keyes) to tell the carnival goon to take a dive. The palooka agrees to it, but before he can fake being knocked-out, Bags hits him with an unexpected right cross (unexpected because, to this point, Bags has been sprinting around the ring and falling down ad nauseum) and actually DOES get knocked out. But Mr. Mike is none the wiser and just assumes that the fix went down as planned. So the gangster invites Bags and Shake to his mansion and makes them a business proposition. He wants Bags to fight the top heavyweight contenders out there and if he wins (which he will, since Mr. Mike is planning to fix these fights in Bags' favor as well, unbeknownst to our 2 heroes), he'll pay him handsomely and, eventually, give him a shot at fighting the heavyweight champion of the world, the Butcher (Michael LaGuardia). Mr. Mike's generosity and scheming is all just part of a VERY convoluted means of trying to put a local boxing gym owner, Pop Morgan (David Wayne), out of business.

Okay... I gotta stop now. The parenthetical digressions are getting too frequent here, and that's a result of this movie. This is, for all intensive purposes, a children's movie, and the humor level doesn't really get above a 9-year-old's appreciation for slapstick. At 99 minutes long, I soon found myself fast-forwarding through any non-dialogue scenes (in addition to the slapstick training and fighting scenes, the amount of "car pull-up"/"walking"/"building front set-up shots" [i.e. - PADDING!] was unbelievable! Take this useless footage out and this movie is 20-25 minutes shorter and infinitely better!) In addition, this flic contains some of the most ill-conceived elements ever seen in a children's movie. First and certainly foremost is Mr. Mike's moll, Polly (played by MST3K favorite and Reb Brown's honey, Cisse Cameron). Every scene she's in features her either downing hooch like a hobo or getting slapped (AND I MEAN
SLAPPED!) around by her gangster boyfriend. I don't care what your mind-set is; domestic violence has NO PLACE in a PG-rated, children's comedy. And the crowning scene of tone/content-deaf children's programming is our only musical number, which takes place after our 2 "heroes" get their first purse and go out and get drunk. While watching Conway and Knotts slur their way through "Til The End" as they stumbled down the street might have been hilarious back in my single digit years, as an adult I found it absolutely repulsive.


The Fightin' - 1 - 2

This movie subscribes to the belief that, if it's funny watching Tim Conway getting hit in the face with a speed bag ONCE, it'll be even funnier by the 6th time. Each fight is preceded by this and a number of other training-related mishaps, all falling a bit flat in my 31-year-old opinion. All of the action is played strictly for laughs, with Conway rarely landing a punch and his opponents existing solely as bewildered straight men. I will say that the fight settings were well represented, and all of the equipment looked up to code. Except for Bags' trunks. They were too big, ya see, so they kept falling down. And if you thought it was funny when they fell down the first time, JUST WAIT! THEY'RE GONNA FALL DOWN SOME MORE! COMEDY! With the filmmaker's absolute inability to gauge what should or shouldn't be a children's movie, I'm surprised we didn't get a couple bare-ass jockstrap-shots of Bags when the trunks came down. Maybe a nice, furry Conway "fruit basket" for the kiddies, eh?!


Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3

All of my gripes aside, I can see how a kid would find some of this funny. Don Knotts' perpetual pucker is intrinsically funny. If you don't find a Furley-esque spit-take hilarious, you may actually be dead. And the actress who plays Mr. Mike's absolute looney of mother (Mary Ellen O'Neill) is a comic genius. Watching Tim Conway trying to stone-face his way through a meeting with the gangster while the mother stuffs things in his ears and pours soup in his crotch is fun for all ages. But for the most part, my pre-pubescent memory has failed me. This movie is far too uneven and, at times, downright cruel to be a funny children's outing. It just made me long for the other Knotts and Conway efforts that I still love to this day.

Rob Tillisch
Back to The KO Picture Show
Main Page!
Starring: Tim Conway,
Don Knotts
"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"