They beat him…they broke him…they betrayed him…but they could not crush the towering dignity of a real fighter!
A hard, gritty look at a boxer staring into the abyss of retirement, Requiem for a Heavyweight assembles a stellar cast and brilliant writer for a teleplay adaptation that grabs your heart and never lets go. The technical presentation is only just acceptable for a forty-year-old film and sadly bare bones in the bonus department.
Facts of the Case
After seventeen years of being pummeled in the ring, Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn) is one punch away from permanent blindness. Surrendering to the inevitable, Rivera prepares to give up boxing and begins a difficult search for new employment. Having devoted his entire adult life to the ring, Rivera has little education and no marketable skills. However, a kindly employment counselor, Grace Miller (Julie Harris), makes Mountain her special project and works to find him a job as a summer camp instructor. Before long, storm clouds loom on Mountain's horizon
Rivera's manager, mentor, and father figure, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), is up to his eyeballs in debt to shadowy mobster Ma Greeny (Madame Spivy). At his wits end to find the cash to save his life, Maish makes a deal with oily showman Perelli (Stanley Adams), who controls staged "wrestling" matches. To the heartbroken dismay of Mountain's friend and "cut-man" Army (Mickey Rooney) and the optimistic Grace Miller, Maish seems prepared to use any trick, any emotional blackmail to save himself at the cost of Mountain's love, his dignity, and his future.
Based upon the original, Emmy-winning "Playhouse 90" production for television, Requiem for a Heavyweight made its jump to the big screen in 1962. Though the medium was broader, the cast had changed, and the script had been revised, the powerful heart remained. Indeed, Requiem for a Heavyweight still has the feel of an intimate play. Despite locations, sets, and all the dressing therein, the concentrated drama of the film pulls us in for the whole 86 minutes on the strength of masterful performances and searing writing.
The plight of Mountain Rivera is a common tragedy, repeated in familiar ways time and time again. At the end of a long career, when the punishments of time have taken their toll, when the mind is willing but the flesh is weak, and you have no skills or resources to fall back on, what do you do? Though not limited to them, certainly athletes of all kind are familiar with the dilemma. One more match, one more game, one last comeback for glory and security, such is the seductive lure and the camouflage for ignominy and humiliation.
The success of Requiem for a Heavyweight lies first in the script by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone, Planet Of The Apes (1968)). Using a familiar story and archetypal characters, Serling focuses in on the personal moments of pathos and joy, deception and honesty, loyalty and betrayal. Perhaps drawing upon his own experiences as a boxer, his story is as much affection for the boxers and their loyal helpers as a brutal indictment of the meat-grinder reality of the sport's promoters, gamblers, and hangers-on.
Bringing this drama to life is a solid cast of legendary entertainers. With a rugged face suited for a battered has-been boxer, Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn (Lust for Life, The Guns Of Navarone, Lawrence Of Arabia) is a lumbering "Mountain" of a man whose pausing, deliberate speech speaks volumes of Rivera's battered brain and body. With a difficult role, Jackie Gleason (The Hustler, The Honeymooners, Smokey and the Bandit) convinces us that while Maish Rennick is a heartless, duplicitous bastard, even he has a guilty conscience that will ever haunt his golden years. Complimenting these Twin Towers of acting are the sweetly earnest Julie Harris (East of Eden, Knots Landing) and Mickey Rooney (Boys Town, National Velvet, It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World) in a tearful, powerful performance.
For the trivia-minded among you, keep an eye out for memorable Star Trek guest star Stanley Adams (once Cyrano Jones, of tribble fame) and Michael Conrad (beloved Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues). Cameos by real-life boxing heavyweights Muhammad Ali (AKA Cassius Clay) and Jack Dempsey add another dash of spice to Requiem for a Heavyweight.
The anamorphic video is not as worn as might be expected for a 40-year old black and white film. Blips, flecks, and the occasional film defect are present in moderation, but the monochrome nature of Requiem for a Heavyweight helps to hide the flaws better than a color film might have managed. Overall, the sharpness and clarity of the picture is quite remarkable for a film that has not been restored to pristine condition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The mono audio track is suitable to the dialogue heavy film. In other words, you can understand the dialogue well enough, but don't expect crisp sound effects or full range pleasing music.
Extra content is virtually absent, with only trailers for Barabbas and The Greatest. Come on, Columbia. Not every disc has to be a special edition, but a little effort to put at least some basic content on each disc would be welcome. Show some appreciation for the format!
Fans of classic drama and high-powered acting should at rent Requiem for a Heavyweight and consider a purchase ($25 retail), though the absence of any real extra content is a significant drawback.
The Court releases Requiem for a Heavyweight without charges, but Columbia TriStar is sentenced to have some sense beaten into them.
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