Humphrey Bogart in his last film plays is of work sportswriter Eddie Willis who lets himself be hired by crooked fight promoter, Nick Benko, helping him exploit giant Argentine boxer, Turo Moreno, who cannot punch his way out of a paper bag. Benko fixed all the fights that is until the championship match, where the current champ, Buddy Brannen, (Max Baer) promises to beat Turo to a pulp.
Bogart, in this his last film before he died about a year or so later of cancer. He looks worn down and much older than the 57 or so years he was at the time, but Bogie gives us once last great performance. Rod Steiger who gave an Oscar winning performance as a corrupt waterfront hood in “On the Waterfront” gives another terrific performance here as the crooked fight promoter, Benko. Jan Sterling plays Bogie’s wife who watches as he wavers with he own inner struggles on right and wrong and finally walks out on him. The cast also includes Nehemiah Persoff, and Harold J. Stone.
“The Harder They Fall” is a tough look at the way, the Boxing racket was, corrupt and dirty. The film spares nothing. The final boxing match between Brannen and Moreno is equally brutal to anything in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The film was based on a novel by Budd Shulberg who also has to his credits the story and screenplay for “On the Waterfront” and “A Face in the Crowd” among others. Burnett Guffey’s gritty black and white photography evokes the slimy bleak atmosphere of the boxing world. Shulberg, based his character, Moreno on Primo Canera, the 6 foot 8 inch Italian boxer, whose manager Lou Soresi, not only stole most of Canera’s money leaving him broke, he was also connected to prohibition underworld figure Owney Madden that, led to rumors over the years that many of Canera’s fights were fixed. In real life just like in the film, Max Baer who played Buddy Brannen, beat up Canera so brutally, his career was essentially finished. Also, look for Jersey Joe Walcott in a small role.
According to Wikipedia, “The Harder They Fall” has two different endings. In the DVD version, Eddie Willis demands that boxing be banned while in the second version, a softer ending that is usually broadcast on TV Eddie just suggests that boxing be banned.
More than fifty years after its release the film still hits you will a strong right to the gut.