The Greatest (1977) starring Muhammad Ali, Ernest Borgnine, John Marley, Lloyd Haynes, Annazette Chase, Chip McAllister, Drew Bundini Brown, Robert Duvall, Ben Johnson, James Earl Jones directed by Tom Gries Movie Review

The Greatest (1977)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Muhammad Ali in The Greatest (1977)

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Having returned home to America from his victory at the Olympics in Rome Cassius Clay (Chip McAllister/Muhammad Ali) finds that doing his duty for America doesn't stop him from facing the racism which is still prevalent around his home town. But soon Cassius starts training with Angelo Dundee (Ernest Borgnine) building up to the fight with Sonny Liston (Roger E. Mosley). We also see Cassius's conversion to Muslim whilst we also see him resisting the draft because of his religious beliefs and dealing with the consequences of his decision.

I would take a guess that if there are any teenagers out there who have heard of Muhammad Ali but only heard that he was a boxing great now ravaged by Parkinson's Disease "The Greatest" might be interesting. But for those who saw Muhammad Ali box and who know his story this biography which sees the boxer playing himself for part of the movie sadly comes up short. It is a by the numbers biopic which tells the story with no depth at all. It is an incredible shame as Ali's story is a fascinating one with enough content which it could make for a trilogy but this doesn't do it justice.

James Earl Jones in The Greatest (1977)

The trouble with "The Greatest" is that it is too episodic and each episode ends up forced such as the early scenes where the enthusiastic Cassius returns home from the Olympics only to be confronted by the same old racism but now racism where the whites wanted to show him off. It gets the point across that they were bad times but in a very unnatural manner.

But the episodic and forced nature of "The Greatest" is not the only issue and it is sadly very much a product of its era which now makes it feel incredibly dated. This aspect of being dated hits you right away with some of the most tedious credits you will see as an in soft focus Muhammad Ali is out jogging whilst we hear George Benson singing "The Greatest Love of All" a song which you question the significance off. Of course it can't be helped that it is dated but it is a distraction for audiences who come across it now some 30 plus years later.

Now whilst "The Greatest" has a lot of issues the acting is one of the most significant issues with many of the actual people playing themselves. But before we get to them it does benefit from the acting chops of both Ernest Borgnine as Angel Dundee and James Earl Jones as Malcolm X plus Robert Duvall in a lesser role. But of course "The Greatest" stars Muhammad Ali as himself and there is no doubt that Ali was a performer and an exhibitionist but he was no movie actor and unfortunately there are more poor scenes than good scenes featuring Ali who when interacting with actors comes across as awkward, looking down at his lines and lacking the smoothness we all knew him for. Thankfully we also get treated to footage of Ali in his real boxing matches which is always a good thing.

What this all boils down to is that "The Greatest" isn't the greatest and sadly ends up a biopic which fails to do justice to a great story. It is still kind of entertaining but through some poor acting and the fact it is dated it occasionally entertains in a cheesy way such as a scene involving Muhammad Ali jogging after a woman with a shapely body and chatting her up.

Tags: Boxing Movies