Triumph of the Spirit

This earnest but woefully misguided film (the first major feature to be shot on location at Auschwitz) tells the real-life story of Salamo Arouch, the Greek Jewish middleweight boxing champ of the Balkans who survived his two-year internment in the camp by winning more than 200 bouts arranged by his Nazi captors. (Losers were sent to the gas chambers.)

Willem Dafoe stars as Arouch and gives a disciplined performance. It's a shame his restraint wasn't catching. Director Robert Young (Dominick and Eugene) and the rest of the cast, including Robert Loggia as Arouch's father and Edward James Olmos as a Gypsy inmate, play up the melodrama in the script by Andrzej Krakowski and Laurence Heath. Worse, an intrusive score by Cliff Eidel-man pumps emotions to a fever pitch.

Arouch, who now runs a shipping firm in Israel, served as consultant. But the film emerges as another Holocaust Gothic — a fiction that trivializes unspeakable horror by adding entertainment elements. In the process, only convention is served.

From The Archives Issue 281: December 28, 1978