Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes

TV talk show host Dick Cavett broke new ground in the late 60s and early 70s by showing as much interest in himself as in any of his guests; this made him the perfect interlocutor for boxer Muhammad Ali, whose public persona was built on his comically outsize ego. This documentary, drawn from Cavett’s archives, tells Ali’s story from 1963, when they met on the set of The Jerry Lewis Show, through Ali’s last fight in 1981. Cavett’s own late-night show on ABC was unusual for welcoming controversial black figures, and the white host’s guileless questioning of Ali about race relations elicits some moving reflections from the boxer. Director Robert S. Bader relies too heavily on interviews with biographers and casual observers (Juan Williams, Al Sharpton) to carry the narrative, but there’s interesting show footage of Joe Louis, Howard Cosell, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jim Brown debating Ali’s draft evasion with segregationist Lester Maddox, who walked off the set.