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I don't think I had ever seen this movie from beginning to end before but had the chance to do so when it came up recently on a cable channel. One feels, after watching it in its entirety, as one does after having listened to Mahler's 9th symphony - you are emotionally drained and devastated. The movie is Exhibit A in the prosecution's case that movies were better made in the past than today. It is impossible to imagine something this excellent being produced today. The movie makes no plays for cuteness or humor, and never seeks to soften its razor-sharp edges. It is grittily real from beginning to end. Actually, it surpasses reality, as all great art does, in letting us look starkly into the cruel realities of human existence. The acting is absolutely top-notch from all the leads. One is reminded that Jackie Gleason, after all the eye-popping excesses of "The Honetmooners" (as great as that series was, for what it was) was a truly superb actor. I cannot think of a movie in which Anthony Quinn surpassed himself in his role as Mountain Rivera - tough, beaten up, beaten down, loyal, honest and yet with a sensitive core deep within. Mickey Rooney shines just as brightly. The script is brilliant, economical, realistic, and revelatory of the characters; we forget just what a brilliant writer Rod Serling was. Of course one of the reasons the movie could not be made today is that it forgoes the obligatory happy ending (which was used, evidently, in the TV version); the movie follows its dark logic all the way to the final, devastating scene.
I had missed out on an Italian TV broadcast of this acclaimed boxing
drama in the 80s and, even if it did get released on DVD on both
regions, I never got to pick it up until now because its lack of any
significant supplements kept pushing it back. Anyway, I got to watch
and own it now and it was certainly worth the wait as this must surely
rank among the best films that deal with boxing. Interestingly, REQUIEM
FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT was originally previewed at a much longer running
time (featuring some 16 minutes of additional footage) but the version
I watched is the more familiar 86-minute cut.
The film was superbly written by Rod Serling best-known for writing many of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-64) episodes and introducing the show who, among others, provided the screenplay for such notable films as PATTERNS (1956), SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) and PLANET OF THE APES (1968). Actually, this was the fourth filming of the play and previous TV versions both made in 1957 starred Jack Palance and, of all people, Sean Connery in the role played here by Anthony Quinn!
The four leads are all outstanding: Quinn gives what is arguably his most moving performance as the dim-witted boxer who cannot even talk coherently with all the beatings he took in the ring and might even lose his sight if he keeps at it much longer; Jackie Gleason is excellent as Quinn's manager who is driven to bet against his own man in order to collect some fast dough and pay off his debts to an androgynous racketeer breathing down his neck; Mickey Rooney is just terrific as Quinn's loyal handler (and an ex-prizefighter himself) who quickly sees through all of Gleason's schemes to keep Quinn in the ring for his own personal gain; and Julie Harris as the lonesome social worker who takes pity on Quinn and tries to get him employed away from ringside perils. The blooming MARTY (1955)-ish romance between Quinn and Harris is perhaps a bit too good to be true and occurs rather too suddenly for this cynical viewer but it does not in any way detract from the film's stifling recreation of the seamy ambiance strikingly similar to that of THE HUSTLER (1961), also featuring Jackie Gleason aided in no small measure by Arthur J. Ornitz's noir-ish lighting and Laurence Rosenthal's jazzy score, not to mention the appearance of real-life boxing pros such as Cassius Clay (playing himself as one of Quinn's ringside opponents) and Jack Dempsey.
Ralph Nelson was an erratic director with pretensions: I've watched 8 of his films so far and a few more have been numerous times on TV FATHER GOOSE (1964), ONCE A THIEF (1965), THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) so I guess I should make an extra effort now to catch them the next time they're on; REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, while actually his debut film, remains possibly his most satisfying work all round and deservedly earned him a nod from the Directors' Guild of America.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mountain Rivera is a role that requires Mr Anthony Quinn to appear uneducated,naive but not stupid,tough,courageous and proud.As a "washed up boxer" stereotype it would have been easy for him to have slipped into caricature,bluster and showboating,but he exercises a restraint not always apparent in some of his other major movie parts. True he does adopt a slightly shambling gait and a husky voice,but apart from some scar tissue,the rest of his characterisation is internal. At the start of "Requiem for a Heavyweight",Rivera takes a beating in the ring from a young Cassius Clay,his courage and strength enabling him to last 7 rounds.Unknown to him his manager had guaranteed to the Mob that he wouldn't go beyond the 4th.Thus we enter the seedy,unpleasant and dangerous world of professional boxing where good and honest men like Rivera(a part supposed to have been based on Primo Carnera)are leeched on by crooked managers and promoters,sent out to get their brains scrambled,their brief athleticism corrupted and their ambitions dashed for a few bucks and the fickle approval of a crowd no more compassionate than that at a Roman Colliseum.But this is not merely an expose,after all,by 1962 boxing had long ceased to be regarded as a noble art,this is an exploration of loyalty,courage,self-knowledge and humanity. Forcibly retired (perhaps a little late in the day),Rivera tries to construct a life away from the boxing ring with the help of a social worker (Julie Harris),"Them are violins",he says as they have a meal together in a restaurant,proud of this knowledge.But their relationship is as doomed as her attempt to get him a job as a coach. His manager (Jackie Gleason) must repay the Mob the money lost on Rivera'slast fight and he entreats him to turn to professional wrestling at the behest of Boss Ma Greeney (Miss Spivey). This is a massive indignity for a proud man,but Rivera reluctantly agrees out of loyalty despite discovering that his manager had bet against him in his fight with Clay.You feel his humiliation as he enters the wrestling ring at the end,everything he had believed of himself destroyed by the man he thought was his friend and mentor. I once had a problem with Mr Quinn.It seemed as though he felt compelled to dance in every movie he appeared in.Sometimes it was relevant,on a few occasions fairly random and once or twice quite inappropriate.I would sit through one of his films a little on edge until he got to dance then I could relax again.I'm sure this was just a personal foible and it didn't stop me enjoying his rare ability to indicate bonhomie and malevolence with the same smile.As Mountain Rivera he passes through the shady milieu of 3rd rate dressing rooms,cut men,compromised doctors,hustlers,hangers-on,dirty bandages and whisky bottles in First Aid cabinets with the ease of a man with half a lifetime in the environment.He has the pride of an honest man,the self-respect that comes with keeping clean in a world of corruption.He understands how that world works but he doesn't want any part of it.It is enough for him to be who and what he is.Mr Quinn indicates all this without articulating it - aware that Rivera would be unable to articulate it. It is a fine performance.Compared the the ludicrous "Rocky" a masterclass in acting and compared to the overblown and overrated "Raging Bull" a subtle and acutely judged piece of work. Jackie Gleason often shows a "Please love me" almost oleaginous quality on screen that can alienate a reserved British audience and few of his movies have succeeded here.As Rivera's manager he breaks away from that image and is impressively unpleasant.A lady by the name of Miss Spivey plays Boss Ma Greeney in a fashion 30 years before her time.Without wishing to delve into Ms Greeney's possible sexual orientation she appears extremely menacing and quite unladylike in the old-fashioned sense of the word.I don't remember seeing anything quite like Miss Spivey's portrayal before or since,nor,I'm sure ,had the BBFC in 1962,whci may be why it survived presumably unscathed,to terrify every male in the cinema audience. There is not a wasted frame in this film:it is an exemplary case-study for anybody who wants to know how to make a sharp,technically excellent,lean,individual and original work of art.Comparisons with "Touch of Evil" are not invidious. Years after "Requiem for a Heavyweight" I saw Anthony Quinn on the Michael Parkinson TV show in the days when it was broadcast "live". Apart from being an amiable and amusing guest he sang - or rather performed - a very moving interpretation of "September Song".It was quite simply a sublime moment,and he never even thought about dancing.
Very good acting and directing in a realistic movie about being a top athlete, and how life changes.
It's easy to pick out Jack Dempsey and Muhammed Ali, but there are many others in the cast. The movie fades in on a tracking shot running the length of a hotel bar, examining the faces of a bunch of retired boxers watching the Clay-Rivera fight on TV. In order of appearance: Alex Miteff (wearing a beret), Abe Simon (with an eyebrow bandage), Gus Lesnevich (holding a cigarette lighter), Steve Belloise (bald guy; he later plays the hotel bar desk clerk in a short exchange with Mickey Rooney), Rory Calhoun (black guy with a beer), Paolo Rossi (big Italian-looking guy with a beer), Willie Pep (wearing a fedora), and Barney Ross (the older guy in the suit, sweater, and tie).
Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, deserves kudos for this wonderful screenplay about an over the hill fighter played by Anthony Quinn, whose life and legend are at the behest of his corrupt and cynical manager, Jackie Gleason. Trainer Mickey Rooney is the only person in cinematic history who can call Gleason a "fink" and make it sound authentic. When Quinn's character can't cut it any longer, he tries to find meaningful work. However, he's taken one too many blows to the head, and has offered his allegiance to someone willing to betray him for a hint of the glory of the old days. Quinn's performance as the punch drunk fighter is full of pathos and extremely well done -- his finest hour in my opinion. Serling has much to say about the human spirit, love, and friendship gone awry. Beautifully photographed in black and white, this film deserves multiple viewings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Another overlooked masterpiece. Every actor in this is a knockout.
Realistically filmed in black and white and written by the master of
suspense, Rod Serling, this film chronicles the after life of a
has-been heavyweight boxer, Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn), his
corrupt manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason) and his world-weary
sidekick, Army ( Mickey Rooney). The opening scene of the movie shows
the former Cassius Clay (now Muhamed Ali) pummeling Mountain's head to
a bloody pulp.
Quinn, an actor I don't normally admire, brings a total believability to the role - a gentle, confused, hopelessly loyal and not overly intelligent man who has probably been in the ring for far longer than any responsible doctor should have let him.
He is left with very few choices for living out the remainder of his days. Grace Miller, played by Julie Harris, works in an unemployment agency and is attracted to his character, she sees the gentle giant for what he is and encourages him to interview for a job in a summer camp teaching children.
Some of the scenes are haunting and the black and white photography make it all the more so. There are remarkably few outdoor scenes, most of the movie takes place inside locker rooms, bars, seedy hotel rooms and of course the boxing ring. I took Madame Spivy to be a Peter Lorre type actor (male) to begin with. I was completely shocked that it was a woman, a fairly masculine woman appearing in a 1962 movie - way ahead of its time - an incredibly creepy and downright malevolent performance. I recall her doing something similar in the original "Manchurian Candidate".
At the end Mountain sells his very soul for Maish even though he now knows the truth of Maish. One has felt he can never make it with Miss Miller and her dream of him coaching the children and he has known it too. And that will remain one of the two bright "coulda" moments in his life, the other being number five in the world heavyweight boxing circles. One hopes it is not a long life. That thought would be unbearable. 8 out of 10. It is impossible to single out any one performance, all brilliant.
1962's "Requiem For A Heavyweight" (RFAH, for short), which was written
by Twilight Zone's - Rod Serling, was, at times, a very moving and
heavy-hearted tale about an ageing boxer who now finds out (after years
of being hit in the head) that he's completely washed-up in the only
profession that he's ever known.
Set on the decidedly seedy-side of NYC, RFAH is a tough, gritty, little tale about heavyweight boxer, Lewis "Mountain" Rivera (played quite convincingly by Anthony Quinn), and his final humiliation when he inevitably discovers the bitter truth about his sleazy, underhanded business manager whom he had trusted for years.
Effectively filmed in stark b&w, RFAH is also notable for the cameo appearances of 2 famed boxers Cassius Clay (aka. Muhammad Ali) and Jack Dempsey.
If you enjoy hard-hitting, downbeat and totally unglamourous fight flicks, then RFAH is sure to please your tastes with its decidedly "rough-edged" realism.
There is not one scene or one piece of dialog or one piece of this
production that is nothing less than masterful. A perfect picture that
demonstrates the ability and talent of all involved.
The cinematography and set design are a norish display of a devilishness that pervades the urban decay and the decline of the species from ape to man to ape-man.
All the performances are elegant and the musical score is biting with jazzy tones befitting the multi-cultural sport and the mayhem of the monsters and mobsters who inhabit this asphalt and canvas jungle.
It is a riveting recital of the human condition that is part evolution and part separation from the Divine. Dignity and self respect, greed and vice, love and loathing, friendship and betrayal, hope and hopelessness. are all here and much more to contemplate. All from a low budget and high nobility.
A survival of the fittest morality tale. Quite quintessentially Rod Serling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like so many others have already said, this is a great film, and one that I've watched many, many times since the late-1960's. Somewhere along the line, though, it was unceremoniously edited by someone who should've left it alone. The cut to which I refer involves an exchange between Maish Reynolds and Ma Greeney at the end of the film. Reynold's has narrowly escaped death at the hands of Greeney's goons, and in that moment, Reynold's vindictively intones to Greeney, "I wish you were a man." Greeney laughs out loud and replies, "Maishey darling, that's the nicest thing anyone ever said to me!" Maybe some of you remember it, but it has been many years since any version I've seen still has it.
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