Image source: Wikimedia Foundation (
Download Movie [Video Format: MP4]
Movie Source: Internet Archive (

The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight


The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight is an 1897 documentary film directed by Enoch J. Rector depicting the 1897 boxing match between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in Carson City, Nevada on St. Patrick's Day. Originally running for more than 100 minutes, it was the longest film released to date; as such, it was the world's first feature film.

The technology that allowed this is known as the Latham loop. Rector claimed to have invented the device, but its invention is disputed. He used three such equipped cameras placed adjacently and filming on 63mm nitrate film. Only fragments of the film survive. The known fragments were transferred in the 1980s from a print owned by Jean A. LeRoy of New York City, the transfer done on a specially built optical printer to convert the film to 35mm film. The film was also the first to be shot in widescreen, with an aspect ratio of about 1.65:1. According to Dan Streible, The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight is "one of the earliest individual productions to sustain public commentary on the cinema." The film is so important to film history that Luke McKernan declared, "it was boxing that created the cinema." As noted by Seth Abraham, the president of Time Warner Sports, it was the first motion picture to ever depict the championship prizefight. Its nationwide screenings can be regarded as the first pay-per-view media event in boxing history, for the fight produced more income in box office than in live gate receipts, it was immensely profitable and the picture served as a long-standing model for future amusement entrepreneurs. Prizefighting was illegal in 21 states and many cities and states tried to ban the film, but their efforts to ban fight films was mostly unsuccessful.

In 2012, the film was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film".

The film no longer exists in its entirety; however, it is known from contemporary sources that the film included all fourteen rounds of the event, each round lasting three minutes. This was not unusual for a boxing film, although each round would previously have been presented as a separate attraction. What made this film exceptional is a five-minute introduction that showed former champion John L. Sullivan (whom Corbett defeated in 1892) and his manager, Billy Madden, introducing the event, the introduction of referee George Siler, and both boxers entering the ring in their robes.

The one-minute rests between each round were captured on film and when it was reissued it included a ten-minute epilogue of the empty ring at the end of the fight, into which members of the audience eventually stormed. Even with these approximate timings, the film ran a minimum of 71 minutes, and sources generally report that it exceeded 90 or 100 minutes. The film climaxes with Fitzsimmons hitting Corbett in the solar plexus for a knockout and Corbett crawling outside the space of the camera so that he is not visible above the waist.

Enoch J. Rector had been an employee of the Kinetoscope Exhibition Company, which filmed Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph (1894) in six one minute rounds, each exhibited via the Edison Kinetoscope as a separate peep show for a separate fee. Some time after leaving the company, Rector arranged for the film with boxing promoter Dan Stuart. Stuart offered $10,000 to the winner of the bout in an agreement signed by both boxers on 4 January 1897. Corbett, along with his fans, was eager to win back the title that he had lost to Fitzsimmons in Mexico. Producer William Aloysius Brady got an agreement from Rector that 25% of the proceeds of the film would go to him and Corbett; Fitzsimmons and his manager, Martin Julian, would receive $13,000. Fitzsimmons was outraged upon learning of the deal, and the terms were renegotiated. Under the new terms, each boxer and his manager would take 25%, with Rector, Stuart, and Samuel J. Tilden Jr (who had left Kinetoscope with Rector in a battle over who invented the Latham loop) dividing the remaining 50%.

Birt Acres, a British cinematographist of Barnet, England, who shot footage of the 1896 Henley Royal Regatta on 70mm film using a ratio wider than 1.33 x 1, sought an opportunity and sent a cameraman to the United States to cover the event, but Rector had already secured an exclusive right to picture the event.

The film was shot in widescreen format on 2 3/16 gauge film stock. Rector brought 48,000 feet of film stock, the largest amount that had ever been brought on location, and exposed 11,000 feet of it. The night before the match, Stuart cut the ring down from 24 feet to 22 feet for the sake of the camera, but the referee noticed this and Stuart was forced to change it back.

Wyatt Earp was a reporter for The New York World at the time, which published his commentaries on the fight on March 14 and March 18. He disagreed with referee George Siler's decision when Fitzsimmons allegedly hit Corbett in the jaw, which should have resulted in a foul, coming after a knockout blow to Corbett's solar plexus. The World heavily promoted the film, and the day after the film's release, printed a statement from Fitzsimmons, "I don't believe there is a single picture in it that will substantiate those [claims] published in The World."

More Public Domain Movies