When heavyweight Max Schmeling, a German whose prowess made him the darling of Berlin's caf� society, entered the ring at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936, to fight Joe Louis, few thought the fight would be competitive. Schmeling, 30, was eight years Louis's senior and, says Courtney B. Vance, the narrator of The Fight (PBS, Oct. 18), "on the downward slope of a checkered career." Louis was "undefeated--a combination of speed, power and aggression, a near perfect fighter." But Schmeling had noticed that after Lewis snapped a jab, the American's left hand came down to his waist rather than up to his face, and Schmeling exploited this flaw to knock Louis out in the 12th round. Yet when they met again, in 1938 at Yankee Stadium (with Schmeling now reviled in the U.S. as a pawn of Hitler and President Roosevelt saying of Louis, "These are the muscles we need to defeat the Germans"), Louis rose to the occasion and knocked out Schmeling in just more than two minutes. Though they were touted as the personifications of diametrically opposed ideologies, in later years the two men became friends of a sort; in 1981 Schmeling helped pay for Louis's funeral. With rich archival footage and lively interviews, The Fight serves its fascinating subjects well.
-- Nancy Ramsey