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The Trials of Muhammad Ali

So much has already been spoken and written about this articulate, handsome, iconic, and perhaps greatest of all heavyweight boxing champions, that many may wonder, “what else is there to say”? But I ponder how many members of the younger generations even realize how Ali was unjustly stripped of his championship in 1967 upon his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War? Are folks aware of Muhammad’s nearly four years forced inactivity during the period that most likely would’ve been his physical prime? Or that it took the former Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. over a full decade to win that title back? Some may even be ignorant to the fact that Ali and Clay are the very same person. In other words, I believe that there’s still plenty more ground to cover—especially when considering we are dealing with a man who was once considered the most recognizable person in the world.

First off, I’d like to react, decades on, with a “Fuck You!” at David Susskind and an “Eat Shit!” for Jerry Lewis. Yeah, I know it was a different era in the volatile, game-changing 1960’s United States. Probably, a full half of white America despised Ali for his stance on the war in Vietnam. Hell, it wasn’t even solely Caucasians. Prominent people of color, such as Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, are shown taking stabs at Muhammad too. Both of those men were giants of their professions who also happened to serve in the armed forces during their time. I greatly respect the mountains that both Louis and Robinson had to climb, while also making contributions to the armed forces during WWII. But both Susskind and Lewis, two giants of their respective industries as well, are so belligerent and so condescending to Ali during interviews from archival footage, that I couldn’t help but seethe. Anyway, screw the two of them—Muhammad got the last laugh.

Alright, now that that’s out-of-the-way, Bill Siegel’s “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” documentary is quite strong. If I can muster one minor criticism(understandably, a few may consider it major), it’s that the film never gets into much of the subject matter all that in-depth. It’s more of a masterful overview, with plentiful footage of the man himself. And, as always, Ali is mesmerizing. You’ll see him upstage the Beatles, outgun Sonny Liston, torture Ernie Terrell, and speak eloquently on race and religion. What a man this was(is). And the only way they could partially silence this “big-mouthed negro” was to rob him of his title. But like most great men, it only made him stronger and he continued to climb higher. This was an athlete who transcended sports. And he did it against nearly insurmountable odds. Of all the documentaries I’ve seen about “the Greatest”, this is one of the finest. So seek it out, if you desire to learn about how denying him his championship failed to silence him. Is it any wonder that he’s become a symbol for so many? Always an inspiration, forever a champion, and an endless array of tales to tell—keep on bringin’ ’em!     Grade:  A-

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6 comments on “The Trials of Muhammad Ali

  1. I’m glad to see this documentary turned out well. It always seems risky to add another movie to a crowded collection of pseudo-biographies. But I agree there is still plenty of ground to cover. I was not aware of all the details of Ali’s life you mentioned here, so thanks for sharing!

    • Glad to be of service, and thanks for commenting. An endlessly fascinating figure, in one of finest documentaries about his life—including an often forgotten chapter. How can viewers go wrong? Hope you enjoy it. ML

  2. I enjoyed this “movie-doc” when I first saw it and if I remember, correctly, the only thing I found a bit puzzling or out-of-kilter, was the portrayal of Thurgood Marshall as a bit comical or cartoonish. Even though it was a brief appearance by TM, there was something I didn’t like about the portrayal; otherwise, i enjoyed that they realized there is only ONE Ali and let him speak for himself on newsreels.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ilene, but I’m thinking you may be mixing this film up with a movie that played on HBO in the fall. That one was called “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight”, and I reviewed it here on the blog back in November. If you look for it, you’ll find that my opinion of that movie was not as favorable. ML

  3. Understandable error, Ilene—both films cover the same issue. Btw, I agree with you—I wasn’t particularly fond of how that other film portrayed Thurgood Marshall either. It’s a shame for two reasons: Marshall is such a respected, iconic figure, plus Danny Glover is such a fine actor. Glover played it quite well, but those who know nothing of Marshall could get the wrong idea. Thanks again for checking in! ML

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