Tuesday, July 10, 2012
HARDER THEY FALL, THE
(May 1956, U.S.)
One of the most consistent elements of most (or all) boxing films, or "fight pictures" that were released during the Golden Age of cinema was that the sport was always connected with some form of corruption and racketeering. This is, perhaps, not more painfully obvious than in THE HARDER THEY FALL, the last film of the great Humphrey Bogart before his death in 1957. It's also a true account of real life fighters and a real life sports writer, thought the film would only claim that it's a "thinly disguised" version of the real stuff.
Bogart plays sportswriter Eddie Willis, whose broke after the newspaper he works for goes under. He's hired by crooked boxing promoter Nick Benko (played by Rod Steiger in one of his best roles of the time) to publicize his new boxer, a huge, but dumb-witted and untalented Argentinian named Toro Moreno (played by Mike Lane). But unbeknownst to Toro, every one of his fights are fixed to make the ignorant public believe that he's for real. As cliche would often have it, Eddie begins to feel the inevitable guilt about his work, especially after coming to genuinely like the good-natured, but stupid giant. Although, the unhappy boxer seems smart enough to want to quit this corrupt racket and just go home to his family, but Eddie talks him out of it so all that are involved can keep earning their big bucks off of the fighter's pain. Eddie's guilt and good natured heart shows a real surprising twist when at the end he decides to give his entire take of $26,000 to Toro as it appears that Nick has rigged the accounting books to show that Toro will end up getting paid only a pittance amount of money after all of his sweat and suffering. Honestly, I don't know whether to consider Eddie a real saint or a real schmuck on that account.
This is black and white film noir as good as it can get to portray the ugly world of boxing, the corrupt men who control destinies and the boxers who are treated like inhuman pieces of meat. The climactic fight (because EVERY fight picture has a climactic fight!) is surprisingly one of the bloodiest, most violent screen depections I've seen for that time period before ROCKY ever came into our lives. Humphrey Bogart is exactly what you'd expect Humphrey Bogart to be; tough, unafraid, unflinching and ultimately destined to do the right thing in the end.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nick Benko: "The people, Eddie, the people! Don't tell me about the people, Eddie. The people sit in front of their little TVs with their bellies full of beer and fall asleep. What do the people know, Eddie? Don't tell me about the people, Eddie!"
Sounds like Nick Benko is about as much of a people lover as I am!