A Movie A Day #168: The Harder They Fall (1956, directed by Mark Robson)


In his final film role, Humphrey Bogart exposes the seamy side of boxing.

Bogart plays Eddie Willis, a washed-up former sportswriter who, because he desperately needs the money, accepts a job offer from crooked boxing promoter, Nick Benko (Rod Steiger).  Eddie is working as a publicist for a South American boxer named Toro (Mike Lane).  Toro is big, strong, and not very bright.  He is not a great boxer but he does not realize that because the Mob has been fixing all of his fights.  After a punch drunk former boxer dies in the ring while fighting Toro, Toro wants to quit and return home to Argentina.  Eddie, who has grown sympathetic to Toro, convinces Toro to fight one last time, against the world champion, Buddy Brannen (Max Baer).  Eddie tells Toro that he does not have a chance of winning but at least he will be able to return home with money for his parents.  However, Benko has other plans for Toro’s money.

Bogart was visibly dying of cancer when he made this tough and uncompromising expose of the racket behind the fight game.  This was his final performance but it is also one of his best.  Even sick and more weary than usual, Bogart could still summon up righteous fury at the type of men that would exploit a fighter like Toro.  His scenes with Rod Steiger are charged with intensity, with Bogart’s film star charisma colliding with Steiger’s stylized method acting.  Both on-screen and 0ff, Humphrey Bogart was an actor who always stood up for the little guy.  Though the film itself may be predictable and Toro is sometimes too saintly to be believed, The Harder They Fall is still a proper finale to an important and distinguished career.

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