CANNON MONTH: Body and Soul (1981)

All the way back in his teens, Leon Issac Kennedy was a DJ in Cleveland, a job that took him to Los Angeles and finally into two films with Fred Williamson, Hammer and Mean Johnny Barrows. By this point in his career, he’d already become a star as Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone in Jamaa Fanaka’s Penitentiary and had married Jayne Kennedy, the former Miss Ohio USA and NFL broadcaster. Sadly, they’d break up just as this movie was being released and as part of their divorce case, a sex tape — decades before this became something that anyone knew of — that EBONY Magazine claimed that Kennedy had released. He later sued for a million dollars.

But back before all that ugliness, the Kennedys appeared in this remake* of Robert Rossen’s 1947 boxing move of the same name. Supposedly, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – those who are all things Cannon — studied marketing research and discovered that Americans wanted to see one thing more than anything else: Leon Isaac Kennedy beating people up.

Leon is Leon “The Lover” Johnson, a boxer who we first meet dancing around an opponent and then getting a few more rounds in with a woman who caught his eye in the crowd. In a public bathroom, no less.

Despite the unclean nature of where Leon chooses to do his loving, he’s actually a somewhat decent man who only became a boxer because it can pay for the medical care of his sister Kelly (Nikki Swasey Seaton). To get to the top, he has to deal with a fight promoter named Big Man (Peter Lawford) and get trained by Muhammed Ali, which seems to be the right person to train you and wow, seeing The Greatest up close in the ring sparring reminds you of just how amazing he was, even this late in his career.

He also falls for Julie Winters (Mrs. Kennedy, of course) who ends up leaving him after all his groupie-loving shenanigans, telling him “I just wish you were double-jointed so you could turn around and kiss your own ass.”

Can he get it all together, get the girl, win the big fight and keep his sister as healthy as possible? I mean, have you ever seen a boxing movie before?

That said, this is like no other boxing movie you’ve seen, as Kennedy does near pro wrestling moves as he boxes, like windmill punches, multiple punches to the face piston style and even runs up the ropes to deliver a big punch near the end. Plus, his nemesis has a very pro wrestling name — the St. Louis Assassin — and is played by former WBC Light Heavyweight Champion J. B. Williamson in a role that demands that he grimace, destroy people and throw babies. Yes, he really tosses a baby in one scene.

Body and Soul was directed by My Tutor and Private Resort’s George Bowers, who edited GalaxinaThe StepfatherThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th DimensionSleeping with the Enemy and A League of Their Own.

This is pretty much a perfect cable Sunday do-nothing movie. You know the kind — it comes on WTBS and you have no plans other than getting over that hangover and just watch how it all comes out. That’s high praise for a film, actually, as movies can be the balm that soothes your soul.

*Maybe I should say loose remake.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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