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 ... See full summary »
This movie is based on a true story as written in A.P. Scotland's autobiography "The London Cage". The plot has greatly exaggerated the actual events of A.P. Scotland's experiences, including the addition of a fictional love interest.
A remake of an episode from the US TV series Playhouse 90 (1956) (Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957)), broadcast live by the BBC in the UK. Jack Palance (the star of the original US broadcast) was unavailable for this version so a nationwide hunt was mounted to find a suitable replacement. The part eventually went to an unknown actor called Sean Connery. See more »
This is another review from my mini-marathon of original live TV classics and the movies they made of them. I've done "Marty" and will do "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Bang the Drum Slowly" and "The Days of Wine and Roses". I'd love to see the original "12 Angry Men" with Bob Cummings but it doesn't seem to be available. I'd love to see a cable channel devoted to these old shows, even some non-classics if they represented early work by famous actors, directors and writers, (as so many of them did). But this will do for now.
I believe that of all the famous live dramatic presentations of the 1950's, the greatest of them all was Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight, the premiere show of perhaps the best of all the anthology shows, Playhouse 90, to which Serling was a major contributor. It's the ultimate story of human dignity, (and how many stories are explicitly about that?).
The locations are seedy gyms and boxing arenas, a corner bar and some streets. The only "opening up" between the TV and film versions is a chase scene between Maish, (Jackie Gleason) and some hoods that takes him through the streets and back alleys. The real difference is the casting, which involves several giants of show business.
The underrated, (for most of his career) Jack Palance is "Mountain McClintock" on TV, a bumbling hulk of a fighter who is still a young man, (33), in age but ancient in any other way. He retains some cognitive ability but not much and a certain gentleness as well as a blind faith in his manager. But he's reached the end of the road and doesn't know where to go. Palance looks like his own ghost, trying to comprehend the present and oblivious of the future.
Anthony Quinn, who was personal friends with a number of boxers, inherited the role, (now "Mountain Rivera") for the movie. He is a great actor and he gives a great acting performance as Mountain. But it always seems to be a performance. When he's supposed to be hurt, he acts hurt. When he's supposed to be sensitive, he acts sensitive. But he doesn't seem to be the same guy in both scenes. He is a little too intelligent and philosophical in the scenes where he's not climbing out of the ring, too much like the real Quinn. He is performing Mountain Rivera. Jack Palance BECAME Mountain McClintock. It was a shock to see him in an interview on the same tape as the erudite man he actually is. He was "Mountain" in every minute of every scene of the TV show.
Jackie Gleason, (Maish), and Mickey Rooney, (Army, the trainer), are two of the colossi of 20th century show business and it's interesting to see them work together. Except that Gleason's performance seems to be missing something, as if he really didn't understand his character, even though he must have known many people like him. Rooney comes off better. Of course he has the better lines, although some of them appear to have wound up on the cutting room floor as some of Ed Wynn's best lines from the TV show are absent. One thing I liked was that Army was obviously an old fighter himself, with the scars on his face. He was presumably Maish's meal ticket before Mountain came along, which adds something to the story.
The story of Ed Wynn's performance is interesting and touching. He was a life-long comedian who punctuated his performances with silly laughter and other bits of business. His son, Keenan, was afraid that, in this live show, he was going to do that, which would have ruined anything. Ed was terribly nervous for fear of the same thing and because he'd never played drama before. His nervousness only made it more likely that he'd resort to his mannerisms. They actually rehearsed on the side with Ned Glass, who played the bartender, to take over the role if Ed broke down, which was a real possibility. Instead, he came through with flying colors in a legendary performance. The knowledge of this story is part of the legend. It's possible that Glass, (or Rooney in the film) might have been as good but the performance wouldn't have been as dramatic an achievement as what Wynn did.
I like Keenan Wynn's Maish much better than Gleason's. He has a haunted, desperate look. The best Gleason could do is look dyspeptic. Kim Hunter and Julie Harris, as the employment counselors, are a wash, although Julie has more to do in the film. The real fighters employed as the washed up barflies add a lot to the atmosphere. Mountain has an awareness that he doesn't want to be one of them. (Some of them were known to have suffered from dementia). I like the tragic ending of the film better than the hopeful one of the TV show, although I prefer Maish and Army going off with the young middleweight at the end, their hopes renewed, as we see on TV. Maish's angry anti-boxing diatribe at the end of the film rings true enough for boxers but false and out of character for him.
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