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Paul Newman stars as Rocky Graziano in the middleweight champion's life
story, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," directed with spirit by Robert
Wise. The film covers Rocky Barbella's young life on the mean streets
of New York, made all the meaner by his juvenile delinquent presence
and that of his friends. Totally out of control, Barbella steals, runs,
and punches his way through his home life, reform school, and prison,
including his army stint where he knocks out a corporal and goes AWOL,
then assuming the name Graziano. It's not long before his talent is put
to good use in the ring. The respectability and success he gains is
short-lived, however, when he refuses to take a dive but then fails to
report it to the boxing commission or identify the criminals.
The film covers Graziano's marriage to his wife of 47 years, Norma, and his historic fight with Tony Zale. Pier Angeli plays the petite but tough Norma, who knows just how to handle her husband; Eileen Heckert is marvelous as Rocky's mother. Harold Stone, as Rocky's disillusioned father, is very good in the difficult role of an unlikeable man with an uneasy relationship with his son. Sal Mineo is effective as Romolo, Rocky's friend from the neighborhood.
James Dean was to play Graziano but after his death, the role went to Paul Newman. Words are not really adequate to describe the young Newman's work in this film. He totally inhabits the character of Graziano and loses what one thinks of as "Paul Newman" in the bargain. One of the hardest accents to do without making it sound phony is a New York one, yet Newman pulls it off with no problem. Though Dean would have been excellent, Newman's portrayal is a treasure. He's angry, sympathetic, scrappy, vulnerable and caring - in short, a flawed human being. It's one of the finest performances on film.
This was excellent! I think it is one of the most underrated and
under-discussed movies of the 1950s. It was interesting from
start-to-finish and had drama, humor, suspense, action, romance.....and
it's all true. The story was approved by the man it was about: boxer
Rocky Graziano. Thus, you know it's not "based on a true story" in
which 90 percent of it turns out to be fiction, just for dramatic
purposes. No, this was Graziano's story and Paul Newman - despite not
looking Italian - did a superb job playing him. This movie put Newman
"on the map" as an actor. He was fascinating in here and dominated most
of the scenes.
The film's direction by Robert Wise and the cinematography also took center stage. Apparently, the "powers that be" agreed as this film won an Oscar for its photography.
Newfane's portrayal of the juvenile delinquent-turned-championship boxer may have dominated the story but all the characters left strong impressions, beginning with this parents played by the great character actors Harold Stone and Eileen Heckart . Pier Angeli is well- cast as Graziano's sweetheart-turned wife. Her Italian accent fits in perfectly as does her character as the soft and frail--but tough female complement to Rocky. Too bad we didn't see much of this actress in the USA.
The rest of the supporting cast is top-notch, from Everett Sloane as the fight manager to '50s star/teen idol Sal Mineo as a neighborhood pal to Graziano. Also good was Robert Loggia as the bad- influence hood. This was Loggia's first role on screen. Speaking of first roles, did anyone catch Steve McQueen in here?? I did a double-take when they had a quick gang-fight rumble on top of a roof and there's McQueen! The camera put a closeup shot on him and there was no doubt it was him! He had no lines, unfortunately, but that apparently was his film debut.
This movie is finally going to be released on DVD sometime in November of 2006. I hope more people get the opportunity to discover this fantastic movie which, by the way, reminded me quite a bit of another fantastic film in this era: On The Waterfront.
This is the movie that made Paul Newman a star. And with good reason.
Although James Dean was signed to play the great Rocky Graziano, his death
in a car crash made the role available for Paul Newman to step into. Newman
who up to this point had made only a handful of forgettable pictures,turns
in a marvelous portrayal of a man who is so filled with rage that everything
he touches turns into trouble.
Newman's performance is layered with anger, humor, and fear. Rocky Graziano was by means the brightest guy in the world, and Newman to his credit does not try to make this an endearing quality of Rocky's.
The story does a nice job of not glossing over Rocky's troublesome youth. It shows a lot of the trouble and bad decision's that he made that led to being thrown out of schools, reformatories, and later into prison. This is not a sanitized bio-style film that you would have seen in the thirties or forties.
The rest of the acting is also first rate. Especially from Eileen Heckart and Everett Sloane as his mother and trainer, respectively. Lots of actors making their film debuts in this movie also. Look for Robert Loggia, Steve McQueen, George C. Scott and Dean Jones.
Robert Wise has done a wonderful job of bringing NYC to life in this picture. Watching Newman walk down the street with all of the people jeering him at first, and then rooting for him as he starts to gain some fame is the work of a top notch director. Wise would later exploit the scenery of New York to better use a few years later in "West Side Story". He also did an excellent job with the fight sequences.
It's easy to see where Sylvester Stallone got his inspiration for his "Rocky". In fact, you might say that he not only borrowed the development of his character, but that of Adrian, as well.
"Somebody Up There Likes Me" is well worth a look.
9 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film follows Graziano's impoverished childhood in New York's East
Side slums, where he grows up in the streets, among hoodlums and gangs
His father (Harold Stone), a disappointed, third-rate ex-boxer, takes
out his frustrations by drinking and by beating up Rocky; his mother
(Eileen Heckart), is an unhappy, nervous wreck
As a result, Rocky becomes a brutal delinquent, spending most of his youth in reformatories and prisons Defiant, impulsive, striking out with his fists at anyone, he is seemingly incorrigible Even the Army can't tame himhe punches an officer, goes AWOL and is sentenced to hard laborbut in prison he learns that he can turn his hatred into a living: instead of fighting the world he can punch one man at a time in the ring He becomes a successful fighter, marries a devoted woman, Norma (Pier Angeli), and eventually makes it in the world, becoming middleweight champion
The story is in the tradition of a number of fifties movies about delinquency and rebellion Newman's portrayal of Rocky as an inarticulate teenager is similar to Brando's motorcyclist in "The Wild One," who also rebels against anything convenient and practical But unlike the Brando character, Rocky develops from a causeless rebel into someone with a clear goalto become a respected member of societyand this strong ambition allies him with many of Newman's subsequent characters
In "The Rack," Newman says he's "half my father's disappointmenthalf' my mother's hope," and the situation here is the same Alienated from his vicious father, he runs out "to be something," and strikes back at the world Their final confrontation, in which each recognizes his responsibility toward, and need for, the other, is a powerful moment; and the two reaching awkwardly for each other recalls the car scene in "The Rack."
Newman effectively portrays Rocky's sincere but clumsy attempts at tenderness with Norma; in subsequent films he would play many men who have difficulty being tender Rocky is made even more sympathetic by his genuine concern for a fellow hoodlum (Sal Mineo), whose idolatry of Rocky as a father-figure evokes the similar relationship between Mineo and James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause."
It's interesting to note the career relationship of James Dean and Paul
Both were leading contenders for the starring role in "East of Eden." Dean's moving screen test landed him the part over Newman.
Then, upon Dean's sudden demise, Newman was awarded the role Dean was to play in "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Fortunately, Newman was up to the task.
His Rocky was most effectively limned, with Newman in top physical form as well as in the acting department. He assumed a "New York hood" accent, which enhanced his portrayal, and executed the challenging fight scenes with conviction.
Perhaps young Newman's burning ambition at the time to greatly succeed in his craft provided extra stamina to smash through this meaty part for a "knockout punch." Fresh from Actors Studio training, Mr. Newman was fortunate to be surrounded by a quartet of fine "method" artists.
Eileen Heckart was particularly fine as Mrs. Barbella, Everett Sloane as a concerned Manager, Sal Mineo as dependable pal Romolo, and Pier Angeli as sensitive Norma Graziano.
Rocky's hard-hitting life was given a realistic black and white production, doing justice to the middle weight champ's biography. Robert Wise directed with his usual skill and confidence.
After the critical and commercial fiasco of THE SILVER CHALICE, Paul Newman
decided that the move to Hollywood had been a mistake, and returned to
Broadway, to star in "The Desperate Hours" (later filmed with Humphrey
Bogart in Newman's role). Warner Brothers, not amused by Newman's departure,
tacked an additional two years onto his film contract, and brought the young
actor back for a so-so war drama on loan to MGM, THE RACK. Then lightning
Boxer/Entrepreneur Rocky Graziano's entertaining autobiography, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (ghosted by Rowland Barber) had been planned with James Dean in the lead, but the 24-year old star's untimely death, after completing GIANT, left the WB without a loan-out actor for the MGM production. The studio decided to use Newman, and at last the young actor had a role he could really "sink his teeth into".
Masterfully directed by the legendary Robert Wise, the fast-paced, gritty comedy/drama follows young Rocco Barbella (Newman), from his early gang days (with Sal Mineo in a small role, and young Steve McQueen and Robert Loggia, unbilled, as other gang members), resulting in a prison stint, finally released just in time to be inducted into the service! His quick temper and natural boxing skills catch the attention of an Army boxing coach, but the undisciplined Barbella decides to go AWOL, using boxing (under the name Rocky Graziano) to pick up quick cash. Eventually, Graziano/Barbella gets his life straightened out, aided by the love of a good woman (Pier Angeli, James Dean's real-life girlfriend, and Newman's costar in THE SILVER CHALICE), and a sympathetic manager (Everett Sloane, in another of his many masterful performances), and Rocky begins a long, hard drive to become a champion.
The role of Graziano would be a showcase for any actor, and the Method-trained Newman plays it with an explosive physicality and intensity that is occasionally too theatrical, but is still mesmerizing. His performance foreshadows, to some extent, Robert De Niro's Jake La Motta, in RAGING BULL, without the abusiveness and ultimately self-destructive qualities. Just as La Motta, even in defeat to Sugar Ray Robinson, would proclaim "I never went down!", Graziano would not allow himself to accept defeat gracefully, resulting in a constant physical pummeling that would leave his face so battered that he'd even frighten his child!
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME would influence a generation of young actors and film makers (including Sylvester Stallone, who would 'lift' characters and some story elements in his script for ROCKY). For Paul Newman, it opened doors, and although his next two projects would be a standard Warner Brothers musical biopic (THE HELEN MORGAN STORY) and soap opera (UNTIL THEY SAIL), MUCH better films would soon be on their way.
A new star had been born!
Robert Wise was a film editor before he became a director. Having
edited some of Orson Welles films when he was starting out, made him a
natural director. After all, Mr. Wise knows how to move his camera and
how to capture great moments in film. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" is a
rarity these days, in that it's seldom seen.
This is also a film that has a rich texture. The story, photographed using New York as a backdrop offers a rare view of how it looked in those years. We are taken to Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan and other natural locations that were an asset in the film. It helps that Mr. Wise had the inspiration to engage Joseph Ruttenberg as his cinematographer because of the excellence of his work in the films he photographed.
This is a story of Rocky Graziano, a boxing champion, who came from a poor family. The father, Nick Barbella, is seen at the beginning trying to show young Rocco to box. When he doesn't get the response he wants, he punches the boy squarely on his nose, making him bleed. Rocco would grow up to become a hoodlum doing petty crime and being sent to jail.
Rocco's story could have ended in tragedy, but didn't. It helped to have met good friends along the way like Irving Cohen who helped him with his boxing career. The love of Nora is another of the blessings this man was blessed with. In fact, yes, somebody up there must have liked Rocco Barbella, a man who is a legend in boxing circles.
The young Paul Newman was lucky to land this part. James Dean had been selected to play the role, but it went to Mr. Newman who took it and ran away with the film. This was his big break through in films. Paul Newman was formed at the famous Actor Studio. His technique is in sharp contrast with other, formally trained actors, but in a way, by making Rocky's character so complex, we get a detailed account of the man by an inspired young actor that went to become a legend in his own right.
The supporting cast was excellent. Eileen Heckart is the suffering Ida Barbella, a woman who has been cheated out of everything by a husband that is a brute. Harold Stone is also good as Nick Barbella. Pier Angeli is sweet as Norma and Sal Mineo makes the best out of Romolo, the childhood friend. Everett Sloan plays the pivotal role of Irving Cohen.
In the film we see a lot of interesting young actors who went to have their own distinguished careers later on. Steve McQueen, Robert Loggia, George C. Scott, Frank Campanella, and other New York based theater actors are seen in the background without any credit.
This is a boxing film that was way ahead of the others because of the tight direction of Robert Wise.
Up until now I've only seen Paul Newman in 1990's and later movies -
but he's never been the actor that called me into a movie theater or
made me change the channel. He always seemed to play the same type of
part: easy going, calm, aware, well contained. Or maybe that's the way
he made each part seem.
After seeing this movie, now I know why he's considered such a great actor. I only watched boxing when it was part of the Olympics - just don't enjoy the sport itself that much - and only know about Rocky Graziano from the newspapers. But Paul Newman was riveting. He made this character of a complete underdog, who apparently had no hope, no charm, and nothing to live for, into someone I cared about enough to stick with the movie for two hours.
I don't know how true-to-life the story was; Hollywood generally creates composite characters, cleans up reality and changes or outright ignores major events. Certainly the many fights Graziano had were a bit of a blur in the film and I'm sure several critical steps in his advancement towards middleweight championship were neglected. The reason for the violent relationship between Rocky and his father was unexplained. And his mother's mental state (the film alludes to her time in the hospital) is not fully developed.
These gaps do not overshadow in any way Paul Newman's performance. I always thought it was longevity, charitable works, and a long-lasting marriage to another actor (not to mention darn good spaghetti sauce) that gave him the aura he has - now I understand.
Probably the director Robert Wise wanted to emphasize more on the behavior of young Graziano, his problems with his father, the time he spent in jail and his misdoing in the army, but some aspects of his final life as a boxer were not shown at all in the film, which ends with the rematch between Graziano and Tony Zale in Chicago in 1947, where Graziano did his best to knock out Zale. With this victory Graziano became world champion, something that did not last for long. Zale and Graziano met once again in 1948, and this time Zale finished his adversary with a knock out in the third round. Graziano wanted to come back in 1952 fighting against the famous Ray "Sugar" Robinson. In that fight, Graziano knocked down Robinson in the third round, but he recovered and finished with Graziano in the same third round. In any case, Graziano was a good boxer, and this bloody -violent sport put his life on the right track. Interesting to note that this was the first film (uncredited) in the career of the actor Steve McQueen. Sal Mineo again acted as a wrong young boy in New York. The actress Pier Angeli did a good work as Graziano's wife.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Way back in the day when I was a lad, I read Rocky Graziano's memoirs
Somebody Up There Likes Me and enjoyed the book. Someone at MGM must
have liked it even more than I did because a really fine film was made
from it and a star was born.
Paul Newman's debut picture, The Silver Chalice, was a bomb. Had he not made good in this it's possible he might never have had a film career. But he perfectly captures Rocky Graziano's character and it certainly is the character I remember Rocky talking about in his memoirs.
Thomas Rocco Barbella grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City and his teen years were during The Great Depression. The bleak poverty of the period ground the soul out of many a family as you can see in the portrayals of Graziano's parents by Harold J. Stone and Eileen Heckart. There were no jobs period. I have an uncle who told me that he spent the late thirties after graduating high school doing absolutely nothing, looking for jobs when there were none to be had. What probably saved him from being a Graziano was a strong family structure which Rocky didn't have.
But he sure had dynamite in those fists. In between all kinds of crooked mayhem he was causing with friends, Rocky discovers boxing as a way out of the slums. It was a long process, it involved a few stretches in various penal institutions, including a year term in Leavenworth for going AWOL from the army.
Barbella was his given name, but he took the name Graziano which happened to be his mother's maiden name while fighting when he was AWOL. The year stretch didn't corrupt his fighting skills any.
Somebody Up There Likes Me saw some interesting people in bit roles. Steve McQueen is one of Rocky's punk friends, George C. Scott has a walk-on as a prisoner. And Robert Loggia makes an unforgettable film debut as a wiseguy who nearly derails Graziano's career. Dean Jones also makes his screen debut as well.
Boxing fans know Rocky best from those three classic fights with Tony Zale for the middleweight championship. Tony Zale won the first one in New York. And then Graziano was offered a bribe to throw a tune-up fight and backed out of the bout altogether. The rules of the New York State Athletic Commission say bribes have to be reported, taken or not. But Rocky's code of the street didn't allow for that. He lost his license in New York, but was allowed to fight in Chicago in a rematch with Zale. Of course he won it and while he lost the championship back to Zale the following year, he's in the books as a champion and one of the most popular.
Pier Angeli is Norma Unger the Jewish girl he falls for and marries and she radiates the positive goodness he needs in his life. One of Everett Sloane's finest roles is Irving Cohen, former garment worker and now fight manager. My parents met Irving Cohen years ago, they almost bought a house from him way back when I was a toddler. Sloane's portrayal rings very true.
Finally Sal Mineo as Romolo is very good and having read the book, I can say that Romolo was a real person and Mineo plays him as described in Graziano's memoirs. The last scene with Mineo and Newman together before the second Zale fight is very dramatic as Rocky sees exactly the turn his life could have taken.
Paul Newman fans have this as required viewing. For me it is one of the best boxing films ever made and one of the best inspirational films ever made as well.
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