RIGHT CROSS is an interesting three-character study set against the world of professional boxing.
Johnny Monterez is the current boxing champ who is secretly plagued with worry about his fragile right hand. Johnny loves his promoter's daughter Pat (June Allyson) but is conflicted about breaking his contract with her father so he can take a deal elsewhere which will provide long-term security. The third wheel in Johnny and Pat's relationship is sportswriter Rick (Dick Powell), who is Johnny's best friend but also yearns to have Pat for himself.
I'm not particularly interested in boxing, but I found the film quite involving thanks to its three appealing leads. Allyson's hairstyle and costumes are relatively unflattering, but her charm is intact. Perhaps the filmmakers thought her character had to look less feminine to be believable as a woman in the boxing world. Through no fault of her own, Allyson's character is probably the least developed of the three lead roles, but she successfully conveys a woman who is comfortable in a "man's world" and also able to handle her tempestuous relationship with Johnny. Allyson and Montalban's scenes have a heat which is somewhat atypical of Allyson's other films.
Montalban is oh-so-handsome, and an excellent actor as well, portraying the many aspects of Johnny's personality. I sometimes think Montalban's acting ability has been underrated over the years. Montalban is third billed, as he was not as big a star as Allyson and Powell at the time the film was made, but if billing were based on an actor and his character dominating a film, I think he should have been billed first.
The film's examination of ethnic relations is quite fascinating, especially given the era. Johnny is reluctant to introduce his girlfriend to his family or take her to his old neighborhood, and he's also insecure about making it in what he sees as a "Gringo's" world if he loses the championship.
Along those ethnic lines, I also found a scene where Johnny throws his arm around his black sparring partner (Smoki Whitfield) for a photo notable for the time the film was made; this was only three years after Jackie Robinson began playing for the Dodgers. It made me think of the story of Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson's shoulders.
Powell raises the film's energy level as the sardonic sportswriter who carries a torch for Allyson. (At the time the film was made Allyson and Powell had been married for half a decade.) Powell and Montalban have an excellent rapport, and Powell even sings a song in Spanish in a nice scene with Montalban.
The supporting cast includes Lionel Barrymore, Teresa Celli, Barry Kelley, Marianne Stewart, and Frank Ferguson. Robert Mitchum's brother John can be spotted as a reporter; the Mitchum profile is hard to miss. Marilyn Monroe has a single scene as the improbably named Dusky Ledoux, who exchanges some dialogue with Powell in a restaurant. The same year Monroe appeared in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ALL ABOUT EVE.
RIGHT CROSS was directed by John Sturges, who directed Montalban in the excellent noir MYSTERY STREET the same year. The movie was filmed in black and white and runs 90 minutes. The atmospheric musical score is by David Raksin (LAURA).
This movie isn't available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen as part of the library at Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs January 14, 2009.