A movie that proved a fine swansong for Humphrey Bogart, The Harder They Fall
is a gripping drama set against a background of fixed boxing matches. Not so much about the fights as the exploitation of the sport, the film is based on a novel by Budd Schulberg, whose Oscar-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront
(1954) helped turn Rod Steiger into a star. Here Steiger delivers an equally bravura performance as the chillingly corrupt manager, Nick Benko, a man who will do anything to turn a buck. Bogart meanwhile is outstanding as unemployed sports writer Eddie Willis, hired against his better judgement to promote a no-hope Argentinean boxer, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane).
Powerfully written, if built around the unlikely premise of building a 10th-rate fighter into a world-class contender, the drama is essentially a battle for Willis's soul as he is torn between money and conscience. Though the scenes with Bogart and Steiger facing off are the strongest and a veritable masterclass of hardboiled characterisation, Mark Robson, who also helmed the Kirk Douglas boxing classic Champion (1949), directs with a convincingly dirty realism, the final punishing and bloody match a clear influence on Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980).
On the DVD: The Harder They Fall's anamorphic 1.77:1 transfer is excellent with only one brief scene showing any significant print damage. Burnett Guffey's noir-ish black-and-white cinematography looks sharp and fresh as the day it was shot, with only minimal grain. The mono sound is strong and clear, without a hint of distortion or compression. The only extra is a scored gallery of posters and lobby cards from other Bogart films available on Columbia. There are dubbed versions in French, German, Spanish and Italian, and a plethora of subtitle options. --Gary S Dalkin
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Mono ), French ( Mono ), German ( Mono ), Italian ( Mono ), Spanish ( Mono ), Arabic ( Subtitles ), Czech ( Subtitles ), Danish ( Subtitles ), Dutch ( Subtitles ), English ( Subtitles ), Finnish ( Subtitles ), French ( Subtitles ), German ( Subtitles ), Greek ( Subtitles ), Hindi ( Subtitles ), Hungarian ( Subtitles ), Italian ( Subtitles ), Norwegian ( Subtitles ), Polish ( Subtitles ), Portuguese ( Subtitles ), Spanish ( Subtitles ), Swedish ( Subtitles ), Turkish ( Subtitles ), ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN (1.85:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Anamorphic Widescreen, Black & White, Interactive Menu, Photo Gallery, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Jobless sportswriter Eddie Willis is hired by corrupt fight promoter Nick Benko to promote his current protégé, an unknown Argentinian boxer named Toro Moreno. Although Moreno is a hulking giant, his chances for success are hampered by a powder-puff punch and a glass jaw. Exploiting Willis' reputation for integrity and standing in the boxing community, Benko arranges a series of fixed fights that propel the unsophisticated Moreno to #1 contender for the championship. The reigning champ, the sadistic Buddy Brannen, harbors resentment at the publicity Toro has been receiving and vows to viciously punish him in the ring. Eddie must now decide whether or not to tell the naive Toro the truth. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: Cannes Film Festival, Oscar Academy Awards, ...The Harder They Fall (1956)