Cinema: Melted Copper

The very title betrays the facile irony: The Great White Hope is a walk-on; the film, based on Howard Sackler's Pulitzer-prizewinning play, concerns the Doomed Black Hope. He is Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones), a full-throated paraphrase of Jack Johnson, World Heavyweight Champion from 1908 to 1915. The last five supersaturated years of his reign form the basis for Sackler's fictionalized crisis in black and white.

Jack Jefferson enrages the country not only because he has wrested the title from an Irish-American but because he has acquired a Caucasian mistress, Eleanor (Jane Alexander). A...

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