Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Harder They Fall 1956

This is a decent but underwhelming mid 1950’s movie about the corrupt world of prize fighting that fits snuggly in this sub genre that is still gong strong in 2011. This of course was the final film of Humphrey Bogart who was ill during the making with cancer of the esophagus, and yet there he is smoking away. The plot concerns Bogie who plays a New York City sports columnist until his paper goes bust and finds himself at financially loose ends. Bogie is courted by a nasty corrupt prize fight promoter to do publicity for his latest find, a sweet natured gentle giant that the promoter has imported from South America. The problem is Toro Moreno can’t box very well, and the promoter intends to have all his fights fixed so that El Toro always wins. The promoter thinks that he can pack in the crowds with El Toro because of his size (he is huge) and the gimmick of his nickname. The promoter played with his usual scenery chewing method acting madness by Rod Steiger wins over Bogart (but not me)  by offering him good money and well we all know that money good or bad speaks.  The film features a robust cast of character actors including Edward Andrews, Nehemiah Persoff (no slouch himself in the scenery chewing department) Harold J. Stone, Herbie Faye and two former boxing champs Max Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. Also in the cast is Jan Sterling as Bogart’s  fine understanding moralistic wife who balks at Bogart taking on this unsavory job regardless of the money to be made and the fur coats to be bought. I prefer Sterling when she played tangy tarts who won’t go to church. because kneeling bags her nylons (Ace In The Hole 1951) and not sweet simpering wives. The screenplay is based on a novel by Budd Schulberg who is no stranger to vice and corruption but this take on bad is no “On The Waterfront.” The final resolution rings hollow with Bogie doing the right thing as Jan pours him a comforting cup of coffee as he sits down at his typewriter to write an expose of the fighting game. The film is well directed by Mark Robson who made the much better boxing film Champion in 1949.  Robson who began his career as an editor on The Magnificent Ambersons  and went on to direct several films for Val Lewton including the superb Seventh Victim. Later on he unfortunately went on to a bloated Hollywood career loaded with big budget bombs and lavish  but empty romantic  melodramas including the simply awful but camp cult favorite Valley Of  The Dolls before dying at a relatively early age of a heart attack during the post production of Avalanche Express. There are some nice on location moments of 1950’s Manhattan, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the great Burnett Guffey did the black and white cinematography.  Ironically the other boxing film of the year Somebody Up There Likes Me, was directed by Robert Wise who did the editing for Welles’s Citizen Kane & The Magnificent Ambersons and also directed several films for Val Lewton the best one being Curse Of The Cat People. Small world.


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