Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
Reviewed on 2009 June 19
This may seem like a relic in the days of Jerry Springer and reality TV, but to me there are few movies that sum up degrading one’s self for money as elegantly as this one. I think everyone has a limit to what they will and will not do for a few bucks, and even if it’s something legal and that many others would have no problem doing, once someone crossed their line, they’re usually broken. I think director Ralph Nelson and writer Rod Serling got this. I know Serling did.
The movie starts with a shot of a bunch of guys at a neighborhood bar, raptly following a heavyweight fight, then switches to an amazing perspective of someone in the ring and groggy after getting the sense beaten out of them. Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn) just lost a match — the match as it turns out, to Cassius Clay (yes, it’s really him before he became Muhammad Ali). He tries to shake it off, but it’s no good: the doctor tells him his fighting days are over. Rivera is at a loss as to what to do with his life, since he’s been a boxer for many years and led by his manager Maishe Rennick (Jackie Gleason) and his buddy Army (Mickey Rooney). Army has Rivera’s best interests at heart but Maishe looks at Rivera as a cash machine. For his part, Rivera is such a decent man and so focused on what Maishe did for his career that it doesn’t occur to him that Maishe could farm his out for his debts.
In this day and in this economy I could see people shrugging their shoulders and saying “and?”. I think Quinn counteracts a lot of that. Look at the close-ups of his eyes. Jackie Gleason was wonderful as the sleazy Maishe, and I’d never heard of Madame Spivey before but here she looked like one of the Green clan mutants from Big Love. Maishe was rotten, but you understand why he would do almost anything to pay her off, even as you hated him for it.
Four chocolate morsels.