“Don’t you see, Bill? You’ll always be just one punch away.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Just three minutes into the movie, we’ve already internalized the seedy, hope-for-the-stars, dog-eats-dog landscape in which Stoker lives and survives (Paradise City Wrestling and Boxing Arena sits right next to Dreamland bar and a Chop Suey joint); watched a young newspaper hustler mercilessly crowd out an older one (“Hey — I gotta make a buck too…”;”Ah, go take a walk!”); witnessed the hypocrisy of boxing fans who feign horror but not-so-secretly love the vicarious thrill of violence; and learned that nobody but Stoker himself seems to believe in his ability to win another fight. Indeed, when Tobias and Helton “promise a local racketeer that [Stoker will] lose, they simply take the payoff money without bothering to tell Stoker he’s expected to take a dive”, since they “figure he’ll get knocked out anyway” (!). As Peary notes, Wise seems to show “sympathetic feelings towards fighters, who he realizes are victimized because they haven’t other options in life” — and Wise appropriately shows “fight fans” as “each more monstrous than the other”.
Ryan (a real-life heavyweight champion in college) is perfectly cast as the rangy boxer who refuses to go down without a legitimate fight, and the supporting cast is excellent as well. Equally of note are the fine b&w cinematography (by Milton Krasner), the highly atmospheric sets, and (as mentioned above) the seamless use of real-time narrative timing, several years before this was showcased as a distinctive feature of High Noon (1952). While it’s frustrating that much of the intent of March’s poem was lost by making significant changes — including shifting Stoker’s race from black to white — the film stands on its own as a minor classic.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: