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Requiem for a Heavyweight

Here's a perfect little snow-globe of a film you may have read about but until now rarely got a chance to see. 1962's Requiem for a Heavyweight, written by Rod Serling, is a big-screen adaptation of his 1956 teleplay for the (now long-missed) Playhouse 90 television series. Broadcast live, that teleplay starred Jack Palance, both Keenan and Ed Wynn, and Kim Hunter. It nabbed five Emmys, earned the first Peabody Award given to an individual script, and provided Serling the industry cred that he further solidified with The Twilight Zone. (A separate 1957 British TV production featured Sean Connery and Michael Caine.)

The cinematic treatment on hand here stars Anthony Quinn in a moving performance as prize-fighter Mountain Rivera, who after 17 years in the ring is forced to quit before one more injury does him in for good. A gentle giant of dignity and pride yet stricken with slurred speech, a face like a pounded beefsteak, and almost no education, Mountain is a beaten and simple man facing a future of no options. That is, until a sympathetic employment counselor (Julie Harris, The Haunting) sees more in him than just a washed-up palooka. Their touching romance competes with Mountain's misplaced loyalty to his long-time friend and manager (Jackie Gleason), who, desperate to settle a traitorous bet with the local mob kingpin (Madame Spivy, in an eyebrow-raising role), whores the fighter out to humiliating staged club fights. The screenplay is as tight as a right hook from Cassius Clay (who, incidentally, appears here as himself two years before becoming Muhammad Ali) and drives effortlessly toward its somber, heartbreaking conclusion.

Two-time Oscar winner Quinn and Honeymooners star Gleason deliver exquisite, image-defying performances, as does Mickey Rooney as Mountain's trainer.

Requiem for a Heavyweight was directed with atmosphere and feeling by Ralph Nelson, who also helmed the Playhouse 90 original, and is supported by a terrific "crime jazz" musical score. This one's up there with Raging Bull among the all-time-best sports movies that you don't need to be a sports fan to appreciate.

*          *          *

Columbia TriStar's DVD release does this movie proud with a splendid transfer of a beautiful digitally remastered print. The disc offers both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full screen (1.33:1) transfers, and it's one of the best vintage black-and-white prints to hit disc. Likewise, the remastered Dolby 2.0 monaural audio is excellent.

Extras include theatrical trailers for The Greatest and Barabbas. Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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