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USA 1956
Directed by
Mark Robson
106 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Harder They Fall

Humphrey Bogart's last screen appearance is a social conscience film with pulp fiction stylings. It was made at a time when boxing had a good deal more social standing than it does today but even so it is still a solid enough effort to merit attention.

Bogart plays a washed-up, quietly desperate sports journalist, Eddie Willis, who takes a job as a publicist for crooked fight promoter, Nick Benko (Rod Steiger), in order to get a bank roll. Willis’s job is to get Benko's newest protégé, an unknown Argentinian boxer Toro Moreno (Mike Lane) to the heavyweight championships (Moreno’s character was based on the real life career of Primo Carnera, an Italian giant who became Heavyweight Champion in 1933–34).. Willis obliges but it costs him his wife (Jan Sterling) and virtually every shred of self-respect he has until Moreno gets to the championship where Benko abandons him to Buddy Brannen (played by Max Baer who knocked out Carnera in 1934 to win the World Heavyweight Championship). Finally, Willis turns and decides to write an exposé, which is the basis for the film we have watched.

The story was adapted and produced by Philip Yordan from a novel by Budd Schulberg, writer of On The Waterfront (1954) and has a good deal of authenticity (Moreno’s trainer George is played by Jersey Joe Walcott, also a former heavyweight champion) although also with some stock studio devices that compromises it somewhat  Bogey however turns in a strong performance and Rod Steiger is marvellous as the crooked promoter, the two working well together. The under-rated Robson delivers the material with assuredness and it would be a fair bet that Scorsese looked at the culminating fight sequence in prepping Raging Bull (1980).

FYI: Carnera unsuccessfully sued Columbia for implying that all his fights were fixed.




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