“You gotta wanna win so bad you can taste it.”
A down-on-his-luck ex-boxer (Stacy Keach) encourages a talented teen (Jeff Bridges) to pursue a career in the ring, and eventually finds himself fighting again — for better or for worse.
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “effective sleeper” (directed by John Huston) isn’t “about the glamorous, publicized world of title bouts and million dollar purses”, instead focusing on “the armpit of the sport, where washed-up, injured, or untalented pugs fight it out for peanuts in prelims in dingy arenas”. Indeed, boxing merely serves as the backdrop for what is essentially a character study of a loser living in a “seedy world of people with smashed dreams and opportunities lost, who not only feed off each other but infest any new blood that happens along.” Huston’s gritty landscape, as filmed by DP Conrad Hall and conceived by screenwriter Leonard Gardner (who adapted his own novel), is bleakly authentic, showing the menial lives of unskilled workers (Keach picks onions), and clearly demonstrating why men would risk their health and safety for the allure of earning a few dollars in the ring. Peary accurately notes that “Keach gives a memorable performance”, but that Susan Tyrrell “almost steals the picture as [his] whining girlfriend”; when Keach’s character takes an interest in this pathetically obnoxious barfly, we finally understand the depths to which he’s sunk. Interestingly, Keach and Bridges (fine though undistinguished in an early supporting role) don’t interact much after their initial meeting; Huston and Gardner seem more interested in telling their parallel tales, hinting at the unending cycle of poverty and desperation that fuels the dreams of so many.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Stacy Keach as Billy Tully (nominated by Peary as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book)
- Susan Tyrrell as Oma
- Nicholas Colasanto as Ruben
- A refreshingly authentic look at the world of low-stakes boxing
- Conrad Hall’s naturalistic cinematography
Yes, as a unique character study by a master director.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)