My Second Favorite Fist Fight in the Movies

My preferred airline now has a channel of “classic films” which included the Bond outing From Russia with Love on my recent trip back home. And why not? It’s a very well made film and unlike the more silly and comic book-like Bond films that came along in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s fairly realistic and hence more engaging.

It also includes my second favorite fist fight in the movies, in which psychopath Donald Grant (played with convincing viciousness by Robert Shaw) and superagent James Bond (played by the inimitable Sean Connery) have it out on a train. The verbal build up is almost as good as the fisticuffs: It’s filled with class resentment, desperation and downright nastiness (“The first bullet won’t kill you, nor the second, not even the third…not until you crawl over here and you KISS MY FOOT”).

It helps a lot that Connery and Shaw were physically powerful men, and IIRC they didn’t like each other (I seem to remember that they almost got into a punch-up off camera). They attack each other with vigor, in an amazingly long scene shot in an eerie blueish light. And it’s not one of those pretty Marquess of Queensberry fights that Hollywood often serves up; there’s grappling and kicking and scrapping and brutal life or death struggle.

p.s. In case you are wondering why I describe it as my second favorite fistfight in film, it’s because cineastes have long recognized that unquestionably, the fight scene with the most energy, style, humanity and realism takes place in the wretched Mogumbo Bar on the Barbary Coast….

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

13 thoughts on “My Second Favorite Fist Fight in the Movies”

  1. I would nominate (relying on declining memories, mind you) any of the fights featuring Oliver Reed from Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers. I recall the good humor and knockabout swashbuckling, but I also remember that those swordfights looked as though they hurt–and Reed in particular looked like he was serious. My thought is that Errol Flynn wouldn’t have lasted a round with Reed’s Athos, although Basil Rathbone might have posthumously won a match on technical points.

  2. I was always partial to the Bruce Willis/Alexander Godunov fight in the first Die Hard – lots of cursing, taunting, calling each other motherfucker, etc. Great stuff. As far as Bond fights, I think the stairway scene from Casino Royale is among the best.

  3. Perhaps a reader with training in unarmed combat can comment on the cinematic convention of haymakers to the jaw with bare fists? In the days before the disastrous adoption of boxing gloves, professional pugilists avoided the head as a target because it would break their knuckles – so they could go dozens of rounds and retire with faculties intact.
    My favourite FRWL cameo is the great Lotte Lenya slumming as Rosa Klebb with a novel take on designer shoes.

  4. What about the knock-down, drag-out fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live? It’s a b-grade sci-fi movie with some b-list actors, (and c-list) but the fight is kinda epic. Put the damned sunglasses on!

  5. Thanks for the laugh. I needed it.
    Still I could not but stop my mind from this mental photoshop:

    The loser of the fight who gets tossed down the bar and slams headfirst into the jukebox should be Anthony Weiner.
    The tosser should be the Democratic Party leadership that called for his resignation.
    The main boogie dancer should be the Republican that took his seat. The others on the disco floor should be Rove, Norquist, et al.

    What a sadsack party…

  6. Vigo Mortenson’s naked steam room fight with the two carpet knife wielding Chechens in “Eastern Promises” is maybe the most intense ever.

  7. Vigo Mortenson’s naked steam room fight with the two carpet knife wielding Chechens in “Eastern Promises” is maybe the most intense ever.

    Did Viggo use a Freudian line about bringing a sword to a knife fight?

  8. Great stuff above thanks everyone – Except you Katja, “a guy thing”? Whaddya mean? Snort. Wipe chocolate from face with shirt. Leave toilet seat up. Refuse to discuss feelings…don’t have ’em. Thanks for tolerating our gender. : )

    Some of my other favorites are Indiana Jones versus the big Nazi as the airplane spins about them in Raiders, Jason Bourne and the last Treadstone superkiller in the first Bourne film, Bruce Lee versus Han in Enter the Dragon, Alan Ladd and Van Heflin versus barroom goons in Shane, Clint Eastwood with an ax handle in Pale Rider (a Shane remake to some extent, oddly enough), the Rocky vs. Apollo Creed title bout in Rocky, and if anime counts, Kenshiro vs. Shin.

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