The Prize Fighter (1979)
A screenwriter could go anywhere with a title like that. A Rocky knock-off. A straight forward drama of a young fighter’s rise thru the ranks or more than likely an ABC television movie of the week starring an actor moonlighting from his weekly TV show. However, when the story and screenplay are courtesy of Tim Conway, we know we’re heading into the territory of comedy and with Tim starring alongside pal Don Knotts the fists are sure to fly right at the funny bone of any adolescent which is exactly what I was when Mom took me to see this during it’s theatrical run.
Conway wisely puts the story into the depression era where he and Don are fringe members of the fight game. Don is a chief trainer and Tim his ex fighter who compiled an 0-20 record. The duo are mainly hanging out in the bread lines to stay alive. When a travelling circus appears, Tim’s gonna attempt to go 3 minutes with the champ to claim a cash prize. Thankfully the local mob king at ringside is looking for a stooge and has the circus champ take a dive. The boys are in cash and the mobster played by Robin Clarke is looking for a patsy to push to the top of the boxing world for a title shot in a succession of fixed fights.
Naturally our dim witted stars who go by the names Bags and Bones are totally oblivious to the gangland ties of their backer. Don as Bags gets the unorthodox fighting style of Tim’s Bones working out at the local gym owned and operated by David Wayne. As the fixed fights pile up, Tim’s star begins to rise though he seems an easy target in the ring until he unleashes his powerful Hail Mary punch that sends his opponent crashing to the canvas right on cue as the head mobster continues to cash in at the gambling joints.
Might I ask a question here. What, just what would happen if Tim really has one hell of a Hail Mary punch that is actually KO’ing his opponents? Could the real champ Butcher Miller be in real jeopardy?
Comedy is the obvious slant here with our two former members of The Apple Dumpling Gang. Don gives us his patented lower lip protrusion on occasion as he plays it tough when dealing with Tim but easily transforms into the shivering nervous man routine he perfected when dealing with mobsters and those who bark louder than he does. Tim on the other hand plays the dopey guy that he became famous for in countless skits on the Carol Burnett show. The best skit here might be a take off on Rocky. Looking haggard and sleepy, Don cracks five eggs for the morning workout and hands a large glass full of the raw eggs to Tim telling him to drink them. A long pause from Tim and stalling ensues so Don naturally offers to take a sip first if that will help. It’s classic Barney Fife here.
It’s pretty obvious where this family friendly comedy is going to go with it’s script and plot but if your a fan of the boys as I am, what’s the harm in that. It even resembles a three stooges short minus the third stooge with the boys trying to make good and even save an old timer’s gym from certain foreclosure.
New World Pictures released this comedy that also features our perfect patsy’s, Tim and Don doing a song and dance routine titled Til The End. The number is also played over the closing credits as well. While Don Knotts is rightly associated as Andy Griffith’s comedy partner, I think it’s fair to say that Tim Conway for many of us is Harvey Korman’s pal in delivering laughs. It should be noted however that Don and Tim appeared together in 6 family oriented comedies. Following this one they would team for a Sherlock Holmes style mystery called The Private Eyes.
In the end a film like this is for me, one that represents my youth as I loved both of these comedians growing up. They kept me in stitches as I was just the right age to be whisked off to the movie theater to enjoy the show. Sentimentalist that I am, I have introduced both actors to my own sons who are now young men. Though they have never really seen Tim’s many skits from Carol’s shows, they too love Don and we still will sit down on occasion and enjoy an Andy episode or two over a quick bite to eat. Time well spent.