My Review of ‘The Harder They Fall’ (1956)

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I’ve never quite understood the appeal of boxing as a sport. But, like many a sport, it makes a great metaphorical device. However, our protagonist isn’t a boxer, but a freshly laid-off journalist named Eddie Willis (played by Humphrey Bogart) who’s hired by the ethically-challenged boxing promoter Nick Benko (played to the rafters by Rod Steiger) to promote the somewhat naive Toro Moreno (played, puppy dog eyes and all, by real-life wrestler Mike Lane), his hot new prospect from Argentina.

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Benko makes Willis an offer he wants to refuse.

Unfortunately, Toro may have a name that evokes bullish imagery and a size to match, but he fights like one of those kids that ends up getting stuffed in his locker. This necessitates the greasing of various palms, the massaging of Toro’s life story (that would be Eddie’s job as a freelance publicist-cum-partner-in-sleaziness), and the fixing of a whole lot of fights.

Via JustWatch

The situation forces Eddie to make difficult choices, since he’s basically a decent man simply trying to make a buck, but develops a friendship with Toro that complicates things. Especially after Benko forces Toro’s Argentine manager to leave the country without so much as a fare-thee-well.

Here’s a scene that sums it up nicely:

The remarkable pairing of Steiger’s fiery performance with Bogie’s smoldering one is a treat to watch. As are the fight scenes, in which the remarkable cinematography and editing bring you right into the action.

The boxing is exciting. It’s also brutal. Unfortunately, it also provides a very realistic backdrop for the themes explored in this film. Major among those themes are the ways in which one can avert their gaze from the consequences of their actions if the money is right.

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Via RareFilm

Jan Sterling shines in the role of Eddie’s wife. And, sadly, this was Bogart’s last film. At the time, he was dying of esophageal cancer, so his weary expression wasn’t all acting. Somehow, it makes the film all the more poignant.

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This scene looks familiar. (Via Movie Buffs Forever)

Like On the Waterfront, this movie takes on the problem of corruption in the boxing industry. For me, it was very much like that film combined with a touch of Sweet Smell of Success. (It would be interesting to compare Eddie Willis with Sidney Falco.) The two stories are certainly equal in the depth of their biting social commentary. Even if their endings aren’t quite the same.

And speaking of endings, they created two of them for this film. Without going into what they are, the televised version has the “softer” message and the video version the alternate, “harder” ending. I wonder how many palms were greased for that to happen. :)

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An excellent example of film noir that’s as relevant today as it was in 1956.

Originally published at http://debbimacktoo.wordpress.com on October 10, 2019.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.

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