Harder They Fall, The (1956)

“Money’s money, no matter where you get it.”

Synopsis:
A washed-up sportswriter (Humphrey Bogart) eager for steady income accepts a gig as publicist for a hulky but ineffective new fighter (Mike Lane) working under a corrupt promoter (Rod Steiger) — but when an ethical journalist friend (Harold J. Stone) and his wife (Jan Sterling) learns more about what he’s doing, Bogart begins to have second thoughts.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “skillfully directed”, “remarkable, well-acted” film by Mark Robson — with an “outstanding no-punches-pulled (literally speaking) script by Philip Yordan,” based on a novel by Budd Schulberg — remains “the harshest indictment of boxing on film”, and is a “rare boxing film where the person who ‘sells out’ for money is not a fighter.” He notes that “the boxing world that is depicted is abominable. Not only is the sport itself brutal… but also most fights are shown to be rigged, and fighters are at the mercy of racketeers and money-hungry managers who should protect their fighters but treat them like cattle (to be bought, used, sold).” Peary adds, “Curiously, Max Baer plays the champ” who sadistically beats Toro [Lane], “twenty years after really mauling Primo Carnera (the basis for Toro) in [the] title bout; one wonders why he or Jersey Joe Wolcott (who plays Toro’s trainer) would participate in a film that condemns their sport” — but this comment belittles the intelligence and awareness of the boxers themselves, who surely realize (now if not then) the exploitation inherent in their own career choice, and also likely needed the money (!). Bogart looks tired and unwell in his final role, though this suits his character: he’s a man who recognizes that corruption is both tempting and relentlessly omnipresent, a formidable force to be reckoned with in a lifelong battle to privilege human dignity and respect over greed and gratification of the masses.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong direction by Robson
  • Burnett Guffey’s cinematography
  • Many effective scenes


Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful indictment of corruption in sports.

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One Response to “Harder They Fall, The (1956)”

  1. Agreed – must-see: as per my post below from ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb)… although I’ll add that I don’t feel Bogart looks tired and unwell in this film. Quite the contrary – he invests his final role with a noticeable vitality that seems to belie whatever he may have been feeling when not on-camera.

    “He’s not a horse, he’s a human being.”

    As good as he is in the film he had made just previously, ‘The Desperate Hours’ (a role that made him say he was too old to play gangsters), Humphrey Bogart had a better role here – in what would be his swan song. (He died a year later.) As Eddie Willis, Bogart has a lot of room to move around in as a very compromised man who (though admittedly opportunistic himself) gradually realizes you can’t meet hard-nosed crooks (in this case, Rod Steiger) halfway. The film comes from a Budd Schulberg novel – therefore, it’s part of Schulberg’s series of exposés about corruption, which he saw everywhere. (Here, it’s in the world of boxing.) Schulberg would focus on the criminal element in story after story (‘What Makes Sammy Run?’, ‘A Face in the Crowd’, ‘On The Waterfront’, ‘Wind Across the Everglades’), as if constantly surprised that there are guys in the world who don’t want to play nice. But, in doing so, he also did his homework and laid out the complex details of how unsavory characters always manage to barrel their ways through.

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