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James Earl Jones,
Mountain Rivera, a punchy has-been managed by the unprincipled Maish, is mauled in a fight and forced to quit boxing. Can his devoted cutman and a sympathetic social worker help him find a life outside the ring, or will Maish find a way to exploit him one more time? Written by
The sport of professional boxing takes another beating in this tragic and powerful re-make of the Rod Serling Playhouse 90 teleplay. The film opens from the viewpoint of Mountain Rivera, a once ranked heavyweight, being pummeled by a youthful Cassius Clay. Rivera loses the fight, beaten so senseless that when asked where he is (NYC) he responds "I'm in Pittsburgh and its raining". When the the fight doctor examines him he makes it clear this broken down pug is all washed up. This puts his manager Maish in a bind since he bet Mountain wouldn't get past the fourth round with some thugs who also lost money because of his guarantee. Maish needs cash fast and the only way he can get it is to get his washed up fighter to wrestle. Rivera considers it degrading (remember it's 1962) and refuses.
Requiem is top heavy with strong performances from its quartet of leads. Jackie Gleason as sleazy Maish is given more to work with here than his Oscar nominated Minnesota Fats. He's a desperate man, wracked with guilt but ready to sell out Mountain to stay breathing. Mickey Rooney gives probably his finest adult performance as Army, the trainer who has Mountain's best interest at heart. Julie Harris as the social worker assigned to find him employment seems incapable of giving anything less than solid performances in everything she does and she does not disappoint here. Then there is Anthony Quinn doing what he does best but this time with a battered machismo that's barely holding together. Body broken, dreams shattered, he is a combination of punchy and naive; a hulking gruesome monster, but still a child inside. His plight is uneasy to witness and Quinn in conveying it has never been better.
Also deserving mention is night club owner and performer Madame Spivy playing Ma, the hood owed money. Dressed in a man's trench coat and hat she displays an offbeat menace with a clipped sardonic delivery that makes more than clear she is a woman not to be trifled with.
Director Ralph Nelson keeps things claustrophobic and low lit to emphasize the grim existence of the characters far from the big paydays and glamor of pay per view in Vegas. Their futures seem about as bright as the dark rooms they live in and the empty deserted streets they walk.
While it may not rank as one of the great fight films of all time,(unrestored cuts from the original print hamper the film's rhythm) Heavyweight's combination of excellent acting and story make it worth going the distance.
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