Sunday, December 26, 2010

Requiem For a Heavyweight

Ralph Nelson, 1962, bw (9.0*)
[posted on Boxing Day in the Commonwealth, and my birthday, as my dad and I were named for a boxer, William Lawrence Stribling, who lost to Jack Dempsey on a 15th round knockout while leading on all scorecards. Stribling was tragically killed just 3 wks later on his motorcycle before a promised rematch]

One of the best boxing stories ever, from a teleplay by Twilight Zone creator, author Rod Serling. This film was it's second filming, as it was originally a highly acclaimed tv playhouse drama special.

The terrific cast makes this film what it is. Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn plays an aging boxer named Louis Primera (too close to boxer Primo Carnera to be coincidental?) in the twilight of his career, his best days obviously behind him, and he'll never be champ. He's actually knocked out by Muhammed Ali in the beginning, called Cassius Clay at the time.

Jackie Gleason is superb as his manager, Maish, how they kept him from an Oscar is a mystery. Mickey Rooney is his cut man, while social worker Julie Harris optimistically has ideas for other careers.

There are some creative yet realistic plot twists that I won't reveal here, but suffice to say that this film deals with personal honor and dignity perhaps as well as any other sports story. That makes it perhaps my second favorite boxing film after Million Dollar Baby, as there's no performance in any boxing film as superb as Hilary Swank's; you can watch her actually become a boxer on film before your eyes.

This version is better than the teleplay for CBS Playhouse 90, which was actually done live, with Jack Palance in the lead role. For my money, Jackie Gleason, here and in The Hustler, is perhaps the most deserving of those shut out all-time for an Oscar®, he should have one for supporting actor out of these two.

[Other notables shut out include Peter O'Toole, with 8 losses, Richard Burton, Myrna Loy, and Edward G. Robinson, who never even got a nomination]


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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