Cast & Crew
Edna Mae Harris
In Birmingham, Alabama in 1920, Jefferson Thomas, a black foundry worker, is seriously injured when a heavy castor falls on his legs. Because Jefferson can no longer work to support his family, his young son Joe decides to leave school and find work. Joe bids a tearful farewell to his playmate, Mary Bowdin, the daughter of Jefferson's doctor. Many years later, Joe, now grown, gives his family all his savings and leaves Birmingham to make something of himself. Joe hitchhikes to Detroit, where he gets a job as a dishwasher and meets Creighton "Crickie" Fitzgibbons. When Crickie and Joe lose their jobs, they find work at a storage and shipping company, but are soon fired from the job when a foreman hits Crickie and Joe knocks him out with one punch. Impressed with his fighting abilities, Crickie encourages Joe to enter the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, and he is soon billed in the newspapers as the "Dark Destroyer." After winning the finals, manager Frankie Walburn offers to handle him as a professional. Joe accepts after consulting with his mother Nora, who now lives in the city, and who tells him to be honest and fair. As Joe wins bouts, Flora Bailey, a nightclub singer at the Bluebird Café, who is in cahoots with gambler Duke Emblin, takes an interest in him. Their involvement worries Frankie, whose concern that he is ignoring his training antagonizes Joe. When Mary and Joe's sister Eleanor, visit Flora, they implore her to help get Joe back on track, but because Duke is now betting against Joe, Flora encourages his nightlife and drinking. Joe is knocked out in a match, and as he prepares for the heavyweight championship bout against Jack Stanley, he confesses to Flora that he loves Mary. When Flora sees that he does not have his heart in the fight, she brings Mary, now a schoolteacher, to the ring, and her presence spurs Joe to defeat Stanley in a knockout. Afterwards, he and Mary are guests of honor at a banquet at which Flora sings.
Edna Mae Harris
Jesse Lee Brooks
The Plantation Choir
The Creole Chorus
The Big Apple Dancers
F. Paul Sylos
Spirit of Youth
Spirit of Youth, a Globe Pictures production originally intended for all-black movie theaters of the time, proved popular enough to cross over into "white" theaters, despite a warning from Joseph Breen, the director of the Production Code Administration, that the movie was "questionable" because it showed a black boxer beating white opponents.
The movie's fictional Joe is a poor young man who is devoted to his mother and his childhood sweetheart, Mary (Edna Mae Harris). After success in Golden Gloves competition, he becomes a rising star of the ring but is led astray by vampy nightclub singer Flora (Mae Turner). Dissipated after too much carousing with Flora, Joe loses a crucial fight and is about to go down for the count in a rematch when Mary arrives to offer him last-minute inspiration. Among those offering support are Mantan Moreland and Clarence Muse as, respectively, Joe's best friend and his manager.
Louis (1914-1981) was born in Lafayette, Ala., and held the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1937 to 1949. That 12-year championship stands as the all-time record in all weight divisions of boxing. Louis was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, and into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Moreland (1902-1973), a character comedian often reduced to playing stereotypical black characters, later played Charlie Chan's chauffeur in many of the Chan films. Muse (1889-1979), although also receiving his share of demeaning roles, worked to bring dignity to his characters in a long and prolific career. In 1973, he was among those honored in the first Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Producer: Lew Golder, Edward Shanberg (Associate)
Director: Harry L. Fraser
Screenplay: Arthur Hoerl
Cinematography: Robert E. Cline
Art Direction: Frank Paul Sylos
Original Music: Elliot Carpenter, Clarence Muse
Editing: Carl Pierson
Principal Cast: Joe Louis (Joe Thomas), Clarence Muse (Frankie Walburn), Edna Mae Harris (Mary Bowdin), Mae Turner (Flora Bailey), Cleo Desmond (Nora Thomas, Joe's Mother), Mantan Moreland (Creighton "Crickie" Fitzgibbons), Jewel Smith (Duke Emerald).
by Roger Fristoe
Spirit of Youth
This picture marked the film debut of boxer Joe Louis, who, according to an October 1937 Hollywood Reporter news item, was set to do a series of six pictures with Clarence Muse. Hollywood Reporter also noted that Edward Shanberg and Martin Finkenstein were the president and vice-president respectively of Globe Pictures Corp., which was formed to produce this film. Some aspects of Louis' career were fictionalized in the film. Born in Lexington, AL, Louis began boxing in Detroit and became a Golden Gloves title holder. On June 22, 1937, he won the world heavyweight title by knocking out James Braddock in Chicago. According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in December 1937 PCA director Joseph Breen informed Globe Pictures Corp. that the story was "questionable from the standpoint of policy, because it shows, among other things, several scenes of a black man victorious in a number of fistic encounters with white men." Breen later warned producer Edward Shanberg that he might "run into serious difficulty in the distribution of this film, especially in a number of states in the South."
Variety mistakenly credits Edna Mae Harris with the role of the nightclub singer. A March 2, 1938 Film Daily news items noted that the release of the picture was being rushed due to the knockout by Louis of fighter Nathan Mann. Some modern sources call the film The Spirit of Youth, while contemporary reviews call it Spirit of Youth. According to a modern source in which columnist Noble "Kid" Chissell recalled his participation in the film in the bit role of a reporter, Seal Harris appeared as a sparring partner and Willie Callahan, a New Jersey heavyweight, played an opponent. Chissell also noted that Callahan, hoping to get a shot at the title by "accidentally" knocking out Louis, staggered Louis with an unexpected blow before Louis knocked him out, and that the fight scenes were shot at the Old Hollywood Legion Stadium. Modern sources complete the following character names: Jesse Lee Brooks (Joe's father, Jeff Thomas); Tom Southern (Dr. Dowdin); Jewel Smith (Duck Emerald); and Margaret Whitten (Eleanor Thomas). Other films based on the life of Joe Louis include the 1953 United Artists film The Joe Louis Story, directed by Robert Gordon and starring Coley Wallace and Paul Stewart, and a TCF telefilm entitled Ring of Passion, directed by Robert Michael Lewis and starring Bernie Casey and Stephen Macht, which aired on the NBC network on February 4, 1978.