The Harder They Fall (1956)

One of the taglines for 1956 boxing film noir The Harder They Fall reads: 

"If you think On The Waterfront hit hard... wait till you see this one!"

One likeness and possible reason for this exaggeration has to be none other than Budd Schulberg, who wrote On The Waterfront and who also wrote the novel on which this boxing movie was based. 

While a fine movie, and a great late addition to the canon of boxing film noirs, The Harder They Fall doesn't have the intensity, the depth and especially not the romance and politics of On The Waterfront.

It has more boxing however. And that boxing does hit hard. Plus it has Rod Steiger, and some of the Budd Schulberg magic does rub off the streets and into the camera, in a tale of corruption, stupidity and greed at the core of the American Dream.

Nope. The States ain't no place to make it as a boxer either, it appears.

The tension in the film derives from a conflict between Bogart's character's inherent decency and Rod Steiger's character's drive for loot.

All will note how well they work together, however. Rod Steiger was one of the first Method actors to enjoy success in the movies, and although Humphrey Bogart was strictly old school, the two seem so well-fitted ... with Bogart still stealing the show.

Most people will be aware of The Harder They Fall as Humphrey Bogart's last film, and this is probably its greatest claim to fame. Despite that, it is a well told and fairly nippy drama, which is not so credible at times, but which always takes itself seriously enough to merit continued viewing.

On the plus side there are many good boxing scenes and some location shots out and about in New York. Perhaps some of these are intended to capture more of the Waterfront magic, and while scenic and fascinating some of them feel a little rushed.

The final boxing scene may well be one of the most violent ever to be shot, and these repeated poundings really do serve to indicate what a punishing sport it can be. 

One of the best indications of this is when a rival of Bogart's character, a television reporter, interviews a former fighter, who is completely down on his luck, having been jettisoned by the sport to which he gave everything.

The story of The Harder They Fall is as follows: veteran and down on his luck newspaper reporter Eddie Willis (played by Humphrey Bogart) agrees to work for the corrupt boxing promoter Nick Benko (played by Rod Steiger) to help build a false reputation for his new boxer, Toro Moreno (played by Mike Lane).

While Toro is huge and cuts a most striking figure in appearance, he has no actual boxing talent, and all his fights are fixed. 

When Toro gets a shot at the title against the brutal Buddy Brannen (played by Max Baer), Eddie Willis is faced with the tough decision of whether or not to tell Toro that his entire career is a sham.

That sham doesn't bother Toro so much, and he is presented as incredibly stupid throughout, unable to see anything of his situation at all. When we first see Toro, he amusingly has to dodge a lamp which he doesn't notice right in front of him, setting the tone for a dumb-as-a-dope performance which is in danger of showing his as an utter simpleton, stripped of all dignity.

A huge amount of men were needed for this scene in They Harder They Fall (1956) - even though only two of them are conversing.

There aren't any more layers to The Harder They Fall than this, and director Mark Robson and screenplay writer Philip Yordan can't even find it within themselves to make room for a love interest. The occasional attempts to portray Bogart's character's wife, played by Jan Sterling, fall flat on the canvas, and don't get up after the count.

Instead, the bums who pay their nickel to watch the fights, the viewing public are suckered up for a fall, and criticised throughout, presumably because many of them are the same crowd that would have been paying to watch the film.

Nick Benko: The people, Eddie, the people! Don't tell me about the people, Eddie. The people sit in front of their little TVs with their bellies full of beer and fall asleep. What do the people know, Eddie? Don't tell me about the people, Eddie!

Or consider this exchange when Willis tells Toro to throw his fight with Buddy Brannen, in order to avoid getting hurt.
Toro Moreno: I don't know, I don't know. What would people think of me?

Eddie Willis: What do you care what a bunch of bloodthirsty, screaming people think of you? Did you ever get a look at their faces? They pay a few lousy bucks hoping to see a man get killed. To hell with them! Think of yourself. Get your money and get out of this rotten business.
While a staggering man-mountain of muscle, the character of Tony Moreno, played by Mike Lane, isn't fleshed out as entirely as it could be. Still this was Mike Lane's first acting role, and he went on to appear in so many TV series that it would take a separate blog to enumerate. 

Suffice it to say that the classics of every decade are represented on Mike Lane's CV, including the rather camp and funny Monster Squad from 1976, in which he played Frank N. Stein.

In this show, 'creatures hated and feared for centuries, determined to make up for their past misbehaving, fight crime wherever they find it.'

The best of all the taglines for The Harder They Fall (1956) is this one:

The Only Thing That's On The Square ...Is The Ring Itself...

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