For a 1986 documentary, 64 Day Hero works as a straight-forward story about British boxer Randolph Turpin. Director Franco Rosso and writer/narrator Gordon Williams pose basic questions about the former middleweight champion’s career and reach logical conclusions about his May 1966 suicide at age 37. However, they fail to explore the sociopolitical nuances of the boxing industry during the early 1950s, specifically the organized crime element in both New York City and London.
With 64 Day Hero, the filmmakers try to understand why Turpin lost a July 1951 bout against the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, and why he squandered earnings that should’ve lasted for decades. Williams immediately acknowledges the difficulties of making the documentary, as the subject’s family members and friends had previously been unwilling to speak about exploitative boxing promoters and businessmen. To be fair, perhaps that explains 64 Day Hero’s gloves-on narrative approach; the film’s very existence could be considered a victory. Still, there are obvious flaws and plenty of head-scratching storytelling moments. Rosso and Williams present the facts but don’t push too hard with theories involving underworld figures and sketchy boxing promoters.
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Today, and even back in 1986, any barbershop boxing aficionado would link Sugar Ray Robinson to Jake LaMotta — the Italian-American subject of the 1980 film Raging Bull. Between 1942 and 1951, the boxing icons fought six times. Surprisingly, 64 Day Hero doesn’t reference Martin Scorsese’s classic whatsoever, and completely glosses over the notion that Turpin might’ve been intimidated by organized crime figures when he arrived in America (for the first time) to fight Robinson. The filmmakers do indeed acknowledge the American mafia’s influence through an interview with the subject’s business partner Leslie T. Salts (who implies that he — and not Turpin — was threatened), only to abandon a subplot about the power dynamics within American boxing culture during the early 50s (as highlighted in Raging Bull).
Unfortunately, 64 Day Hero doesn’t explore the concept that Turpin might’ve thrown his July 1951 bout. It has been well-documented that corrupt promoters fixed fights during the early 50s, and that both Robinson and LaMotta were forced to deal with such figures in one way or another. Turpin lasted until the 10th round when he lost the championship to Robinson, but the footage in 64 Day Hero shows a man who refuses to throw a punch during the climax. Physical and mental fatigue could explain Turpin’s lack of grit; however, it’s certainly possible that he intended to earn a paycheck and leave. After all, Turpin’s winnings “should’ve been enough to set him up for life,” according to manager George Middleton. It’s a shame that 64 Day Hero doesn’t fully address the realities faced by professional fighters during the 50s while trying to pay the bills. (Note: During a later match, shown at the 67-minute mark, Turpin seems to clearly throw a fight; it’s a tremendously bad performance that’s comparable to Tenshin Nasukawa’s laughable acting while “competing” against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2018.)
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64 Day Hero’s gloves-on approach continues through the third act during interviews with family members and friends. As a viewer, I didn’t necessarily expect the filmmakers to blatantly “expose” or “shame” the subject — who, by the way, physically abused his first wife, cheated on his second wife and allegedly shot his daughter before committing suicide — but I did expect more context for the July 1951 trip to America, which ended with Turpin losing his championship and ultimately being accused of sexual assault by a Black woman named Adele Daniels. It feels like there’s more to the story; it seems like Turpin received a warning during that fateful visit to the Big Apple. Despite its storytelling flaws and omissions, 64 Day Hero is a must-watch for the boxing documentary completist.
64 Day Hero is available to stream exclusively at OVID.tv.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.