[box cover]

The Harder They Fall

There is something of a black-comic mystery in Philip Yordan's involvement with 1956's The Harder They Fall. The film follows Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart), a reporter who lost his job when his paper folded, as he is asked by boxing promoter Nick Benko (Rod Steiger) to build up Toro Moreno (Mike Lane) — a seven-foot-tall behemoth from South America who can't fight worth a damn but looks impressive — into a class A prize-fighter. Willis knows he can't make Toro a boxer, but Benko is sure the kid has a want-to-see factor, so Willis promotes the hell out of him, while Benko sets up the fights so Toro only has to face men who will take a dive for money. But as Willis gets a raise and promotion while Toro keeps winning, his sense of right and wrong gets tested as he knows that all of Toro's victories are orchestrated lies. And it's especially hard on Eddie with Toro's childlike in nature, as the boxer trusts him to a fault. Thus, when champion Buddy Brannan (Max Baer) gets upset with Toro, Eddie finds he must confront the real brutality of the sport and the people behind it. The Harder They Fall essentially is meant to show the slightly naive Bogart character taken in by the money of Steiger, but after witnessing first-hand how much promoters take advantage of their boxers, the journalist in him emerges — forcing him to reveal the dirty truths of the business. It's a compelling story, one done before and after, but only occasionally as well. Bogart, in his final on screen appearance, was still one of the world's most compulsively watchable actors, and he is well matched by the seductive evil that Steiger portrays. The film also is well directed by Mark Robson, who has an eye for fight scenes that are — when necessary — quite brutal. But back to the script: As it was written during the blacklist era, it's easy to read the film as being pro-snitching (Bogey's character is naming names by telling the truth), but this comes from writer and producer Philip Yordan, who's probably the most famous "front" of that era. As many blacklisted writers had no source of income, sometimes they would find a schlep to be used as a "front" to get work (with the front getting the screen credit and a sum of their fee). Yordan's name is attached to some great pictures he may or may not have had a hand in (like Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar and the perverse Joseph H. Lewis noir The Big Combo), and some that it was later revealed to be the work of another author (such as Ben Maddow's screenplay for Men in War, among others). Yordan's level of involvement in many of the screenplays he's credited with is still something of a mystery, so here — where the blacklist seems directly addressed — one wonders if Yordan was suggesting that it was good to snitch, or if the screenplay was a sick joke on Yordan by one of the blacklisted writers he was fronting, or if perhaps this was Yordan thumbing his nose as the other writers he fronted for. It's something we may never know the answer to, but however it got there, The Harder They Fall is still a solid piece of Exposé filmmaking. Columbia TriStar presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with audio in monaural DD 2.0. The source-print is a bit grainy and shows some wear, but it is in otherwise excellent condition. Extras include bonus trailers and a promo gallery called "The Bogart Collection" highlighting the lobby cards of Columbia-made Bogie films. Keep-case.

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