THE CHAMP-Beltway Plaza, Bradlick, Oxon Hill, Tenley Circle, Vienna, Wheaton Plaza and White Flint.
It's too common an experience for a woman to devote herself to bringing up a child alone, because the father has deserted them, for any one to think much about it. Perhaps people might wonder if she drove the man away, thus depriving the children of the important masculine influence.
But if a man rears his child, he's considered a saint. Any character faults he may have only serve to set off the beauty of the miracel that he's willing to care for a helpless blood relative. If he drinks and gambles, well, those are touching humna failures, not comparable to the sins of a single mother who would then be obviously unfit.
This is the poignant basis fo "The Champ," the 1931 weeper that is back with John Voight and an eight-year-old former model named Ricky Schroder in the roles of father and son originally played by Wallace Beery and Jackie .Cooper. The part of master director, which had belonged to King Vidor, has been assumed by Franco Zeffirelli.
Zeffirelli, having previously filmed only Shakespeare and the Bible, expanded his definition of "the classics" to modernize this venerable film for, as he has said, "today's era of the liberated woman."
This means that a part was put in for Faye Dunaway in which she runs around Hialeah dressed for the Queen's enclosure at Ascot. A few words are exchanged about her having "a career," as a passing explanation for why she left home. In addition to being married to a rich doctor now, the career, consists of narrating a country club fashion, show in which she, sharing the film's definition, announces that Chanel, Vionnet and Lanvin are "classics."
It is this role, chiefly, that does the picture in. Tear-jerking requires simplicity, and a sketched-in part of Snooty Lady could set off the Loving Bun part of the father. But attempting a complicated character, even in this perfunctory way, dilutes the tears.
Of the three chief actors, Schroder, the child, is the most effective, Dunaway is so aloof and Voight so offhand, in the hope of not seeming to patronize the boy, that it is hard to imagine their ever having gotten up the energy to conceive him. Not the slightest spark exists between them. The particular class differences that come from mismatched acting styles make it seem impossible for them to have once been a family: a woman born to upper-middle-class stuffiness, a man sweating it out on the margins of racing and boxing, and a perfect blond child who looks richer and more finely cared for than either one of them.
The touching and amazing emotional feat here is not that the father cares for him, but that he can work up some feeling for either one of them. CAPTION: Picture, JON VOIGHT AND FAYE DUNAWAY IN FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI'S REMAKE OF "THE CHAMP."