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Movie corner Rewatch Bogart’s last movie

By HOWARD McQUITTER II

oldschoolmovies.wordpress.com

howardmcquitter68@gmail.com

“The Harder They Fall” (1956)

 **** 

Columbia Pictures

A hard-hitting boxing movie where the mob has an iron-grip on the boxing business and like another film of the same era  called “Set-Up”(1949), it features much reality about who controls boxing in the 1930s-1950s. At the time, boxing along with baseball, is America’s most popular sport. “The Harder They Fall” is Humphrey Bogart’s last film (he died on Jan. 14, 1957, from esophageal cancer) but he is still on top of his game as an actor.

I saw this movie when I was a boy, and have seen it several times since then, most recently three weeks ago.

The director Mark Robson (“The Seventh Victim” 1943, “Peyton Place” 1957, “Valley of the Dolls” 1967) is joined by Philip Yordan who writes the screenplay and also produces Bogart’s last movie.

Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-and-out sportswriter who falls into a trap when he signs with sleazy boxing manager Nick Benko (Rod Steiger) to be a press agent to what will become a series of fixed boxing matches featuring an immigrant from Argentina, a massive man with cream-puff fists, a gentle giant  named Toro Moreno (Mike Lane). Other louche characters, all mob guys, Art Leavitt (Harold J. Stone)and Jim Weyerhause (Edward Andrews) are a part of the corrupt boxing business. Benko, Leavitt and Weyerhause care little for Moreno’s welfare only to cash in big time on a man who has no boxing experience. The mob buys a bus with Moreno’s picture on it parading around the town as if  Moreno  is going to be boxing champion of the world. Moreno has no idea that he’s getting ripped off from nearly all the spoils. 

Things begin to change for Willis after the fight Moreno has with Gus Dundee (Pat Comiskey), recently has a fight with Bunny Brannen (Max Baer), probably too soon to be in another one, is knocked down dying from a brain hemorrhage. Willis gets an epiphany realizing the whole thing on Benko’s fixed fights are unscrupulous so he  begins to tell Moreno he’s being used and ripped off mightily. Once Willis confronts Benko and others about the big rip-off of Moreno, the sportswriter (he can’t say he isn’t warned by his wife, Beth, played by Jan Sterling) becomes a  persona non grata. Willis  threatens to send Moreno back to  Argentina and to open up an investigation of the corrupt boxing world. George (Jersey Joe Walcott), Moreno’s trainer, the only principal African American actor in the movie and also a real-life boxer, simply stayed in the mob’s favor. 

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Eddie Willis), Rod Steiger (Nick Benko), Jan Sterling (Beth Willis), Mike Lane (Toro Moreno), Max Baer Buddy Brannen), Edward Andrews (Jim Weyerhause), Jersey Joe Walcott (George), Harold J. Stone (Art Leavitt), Carlos Montalban (Luis Agrandi), Nehrmiah Persoff (Leo), Joe Greb (Homeless Man). MPAA: NR. Director: Mark Robson. Producer and Screenwriter: Philip Yordan.  Running time: 109 minutes. In black and white.

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