“Glory Alley’s” a weird one. It frames its story through an old newspaperman, Gabe Jordan, telling a young charge about the greatest story he ever told, which laces the ensuing movie with mounds of irony because if “Glory Alley” is the greatest story he ever told then, damn, he wouldn’t have been my go-to columnist. The story begins with a boxer, the immortally named Socks Barbarossa (Ralph Meeker), about to tangle for the title only to suddenly hop off his stool and bolt from the ring. Why? He won’t say, and so the movie becomes a journey to unwinding that secret, which would suggest something of a dark, mysterious tone, except that director Raoul Walsh packs the film with song & dance numbers that seem copy & pasted from some other film entirely. In fact, none other than Louis Armstrong plays Socks’s trainer, Shadow Johnson, if for no other reason than to. It’s like Walsh realized the secret that Socks was holding onto was a dud and so he called on Armstrong, and on Leslie Caron too, to sort of stall time until the secret revealed.
That the secret takes so long to be revealed can essentially be attributed to the astounding stubbornness of Socks and the equally astounding stubbornness of The Judge, Gus Evans (Kurt Kasznar), the possible father in law of Socks considering that he’s dating The Judge’s daughter, Angela (Caron). But if Angela can at least find it in her heart to forgive Socks, even if Socks won’t cop to why he ran out of the ring, The Judge cannot and will not. In a heated disagreement after the bout, in fact, Socks knocks The Judge down. It isn’t deliberate, but it adds fuel to the fire, and The Judge can only look at Socks as a rageful quitter, refusing to give him the benefit of the doubt, refusing to let bygones be bygones, calling him out as a cowardly quitter at every turn
Heck, even when Socks winds up drafted and going overseas to fight in the Korean War, a sudden interlude that between the singing & dancing and skulking seems like a third movie entirely where he becomes a hero in the process, recipient of the Medal of the Honor, it’s still not enough for The Judge to come around. And it’s not enough for Socks to come around either. When his hero status quickly wears off, he gives the medal up. Why does he need it if it won’t give him anything in return? And so it goes, back and forth, on and on, these two men stubbornly refusing to get along. And as they
This is not to say that Angela is any kind of complex character. She mainly exists to be pitted between Father and Fiancé, unsuccessfully trying to broker a truce. You cannot help but feel empathy for her, having to deal with these two inflexible idiots who would have it so easy if the requisite secret could just be unearthed. God, it’s a drag. And it’s the reason why her song & dance numbers still manage to fit despite being apart from the rest of “Glory Alley’s” tone. Because her stage performances become her escape from this pair of feuding numskulls. It becomes our only escape too.