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Somebody Up There Likes MeUSA 1956
Directed by Robert Wise
Running time 113 minutes
Paul Newman in his first major big screen appearance (he had previously appeared in the 1954 sword-and-sandal movie, The Silver Chalice), is an unlikely choice to play Rocky Graziano, a juvenile delinquent living with a bullying drunk of a father (Harold J. Stone) and submissive mother (Eileen Heckart) in the slums of New York's Lower East Side during the war years who went on to become the middleweight champion of the world.
Based on Graziano’s autobiography and scripted by. Ernest Lehman, the film follows the familiar against-the-odds, zero-to-hero narrative arc and suffers at the outset from its B grade whip-through of Graziano’s early days as a smart-mouthed punk and finally, a terribly cheesy triumphal ending in which everyone who was anyone in the story clusters around the radio to listen to Rocky’s big win (albeit that boxing was then much more credible as a sport than it is today).
In between the Wise gives us a watchable-enough film as it tells the story of Graziano’s career with Newman. in the first of many similar characters that he would play, schlumping around as an endearingly diffident lug and Pier Angeli looking Audrey Hepburn-angelic as his wife. The culminating championship fight in Chicago is well-staged and as a bonus there is some nice location photography of New York’s Lower East Side. However, unlike his much superior 1949 boxing film, The Set-Up, Wise gives us a sanitized depiction of both the violence and tawdriness of boxing the production with a clear eye on its potential audience opting instead to present it as a classic way-out-of-the-slums option.
FYI: The Rocky role was originally intended for James Dean whose Rebel Without A Cause (1955) co-star, Sal MIneo, appears here. The film also provides big screen debuts for Steve McQueen and Robert Loggia.