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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
After 17 years as a recognized and respected sports journalist in New York City, Eddie Willis finds himself out of a job when his newspaper folds. He's approached by a major fight promoter, Nick Benko, to act as a public relations man for his new heavyweight fighter Toro Moreno. Eddie knows the how the fight game works and after watching Toro in the ring, realizes Toro is nothing but a stiff who has no hope of succeeding. Benko offers him a sizable salary and an unlimited expense account and given his financial situation, he agrees. Benko's strategy to make money is one that has been used time again. Starting in California and moving east, they arrange a series of fights for Toro with stiffs and has-beens. All of the fights are rigged to build up his record and get him a fight with the heavyweight champion, Buddy Brannen, where they will make a sizable profit at the gate. Along the way, one boxer gets killed in the ring and Eddie begins to have serious doubts about what he is doing. Written by
"The Harder They Fall", based on the brutally real novel by Budd Schulberg, presents us with an aspect of the boxing world that no one talked about in those days. The sport was dominated by the racket men that made tremendous profits at the expense of the young pugilists that came from poor backgrounds.
Mark Robson, the director, was a man that understood that underworld well. He had already directed the excellent "Champion", so he proved to be a natural for taking the helm of this movie. Mr. Robson, worked as an editor for Orson Welles and knew what worked in the cinema. Working with the cinematographer Burnett Guffey, a man who was one of the best in the business, Mr. Robson created a film that was a ground breaker. New York City in the fifties is the background for the story that was shot in real exteriors that added a drama to the film.
This was the last film in which Humphrey Bogart made. In fact, Mr. Bogart shows signs of the illness that would take his life after the film was completed. Humphrey Bogart's Eddie Willis is a man that clearly wants to be fair to the poor boxer, Toro, from Argentina, who is being manipulated by the bad guys under the evil Benko. This was one of the best appearances of Mr. Bogarts in the movies.
The other surprise in the film is the portrayal by Rod Steiger of the mob man that wants to use Toro for his own illegal gains. Rod Steiger stood in sharp contrast with Humphrey Bogart. Being a method actor, his technique was entirely different from the one of his co-star. Yet, when both men are seen on the same frame, one can sense two great actors doing what they did best.
The interesting cast put together for the film made it better than it could have been. Under Mark Robson's direction we see a lot of New York based actors in the background. One would have liked to see more of Jan Sterling, who plays Eddie's understanding wife Beth. Also in the cast, Nhemiah Persoff, Jack Albertson, Max Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott, Mike Lane, Carlos Montalban, make good contributions to the film.
The boxing sequences are masterfully staged by Mr. Robson, who gives us a ringside seat to watch the matches. This film shows the director at the top of his craft.
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