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Monday, December 1, 2014

THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956)

Humphrey Bogart’s last pic, a ‘No-Holds-Barred’ takedown of the pro-fight game, is nearly as rigged as the fights in the film. An oversold package of simplified ethics & rudimentary boxing a child wouldn’t buy, it’s dumb-downed dramatics for the same hoi polloi the script so contemptuously labels as paying two dollars of blood money for a taste of the action. In the last act, a welcome touch of grey moral terrain sneaks in when Bogie is forced to reveal some hard truths to the fighting freakshow he’s paid to pass off as a legit contender; and also when the reigning champ grows truculent at not getting the credit he thinks he deserves on a ring fatality. But generally, director Mark Robson lets Philip Yordan’s script play rope-a-dope with the audience. Entertaining in its way, with Bogie belying his real life health concerns, it’s probably best viewed for the way it slavishly follows ON THE WATERFRONT.* With Jan Sterling’s blonde, voice-of-conscience wife in for Eva Marie Saint; Rod Steiger’s screaming boss in for Lee J. Cobb; Nehemiah Persoff’s sweating accountant in as . . . Rod Steiger!; and Marlon Brando split into Bogart for a moral awakening and Mike Lane’s Toro-the-boxing-giant to get beaten to a pulp right before an uplifting finish. And no complaints from the writer since Budd Shulberg wrote WATERFRONT and the novel this comes from.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Already seen ON THE WATERFRONT? Try Jules Dassin’s masterful NIGHT AND THE CITY/’50 for a Pro-Wresting variant.

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