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HARDER THEY FALL, THE (director: Mark Robson; screenwriter: Philip Yordan/from the book by Budd Schulberg The Harder They Fall; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: Hugo W. Friedhofer; 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), Nehemiah Persoff (Leo), Joe Greb (Homeless Bum); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Philip Yordan; Columbia Pictures; 1956)
“The unwell Bogie’s last film is not a knockout, but his hard-hitting performance is terrific.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

The unwell Bogie’s last film is not a knockout, but his hard-hitting performance is terrific as a has-been sports journalist out of desperation taking a job as a publicist for a fight fixer in order to get a bank account. It was adapted from a novel by Budd Schulberg and the screenplay was cynically penned by Philip Yordan, and directed by Mark Robson as a combination melodrama and thriller. The film is based on the boxing career of Primo Carnera, an Italian giant who became Heavyweight Champion in 1933–34. The real Carnera sued Columbia Pictures about its claims his fights were fixed, but loses. The Harder They Fall serves as an exposé of the mob’s control over professional boxing.

Bogart plays the unemployed Eddie Willis, who sells his soul to the Devil when the once respected newspaper sports columnist becomes PR man for crooked fight promoter Nick Benko (Rod Steiger). It is Willis’ job through his contacts to get publicity for Benko’s newest protégé, unknown Argentinian boxer Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), a stiff who can’t fight a lick but who is being promoted as the next heavyweight champ. Through a series of fixed fights, Toro gets a chance to soon fight for the championship against Buddy Brannen (Max Baer, knocked out Primo Carnera in 1934 to win the Heavyweight Championship). Toro has no idea that all his fights have been fixed and when the fix is off for his fight with Brannen, who refuses to carry him for six-rounds out of pride and instead threatens to beat his brains out, Willis lets the innocent boxer in on the secret so that he knows what he’s in for this time.

When Toro is pummeled, refusing to follow the lessons his trainer George (Jersey Joe Walcott, former Heavyweight Champion) taught him to avoid a beating, and the syndicate pays him a mere $49.07, Willis gets a change of heart and gives the boxer his $26,000 share and puts him on a plane to Argentina. Willis, though threatened physically, then makes up for his corrupt actions by becoming a journalist again and exposing Benko and his organization through a series of articles.

The social conscience film is realistic, but fails to be shocking or for that matter convincing.

REVIEWED ON 12/17/2004 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”