Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962)

Was Jackie Gleason ALWAYS middle-aged and portly?

In today's sports environment, it's hard to picture a professional athlete ever ending up down on their luck. It seems like even the benchwarmers end up making more money than most of us could ever dream of making in our entire lifetime. I'd like to see a "utility infielder" edition of MTV-Cribs; I'm willing to bet that the guy who spent the majority of his playing days as a Gatorade-connoisseur for the Montreal Expos has a nicer pad then I ever will. But in reality, it's a ridiculously small portion of the population that ever makes those types of megabucks. And while the percentage of athletes that never have to work another day in their lives once their playing days are over has risen, there's still a majority that have to head back out to the salt mines like the rest of us. This is particularly true of boxers.

There are so few "superstar" boxers. So few that command the million-dollar-plus purses. And even fewer who have the ability to make any of that money last. I'm not saying there's a correlation between having your face punched for a living and poor accounting skills, but it's something to think about. The bottom line is, boxing is a tough business in and out of the ring, and few movies illustrate this point with more clarity than "Requiem For A Heavyweight".

Louis "Mountain" Rivera (Quinn) has just received the boxer's death sentence. The post-fight doctor has just told him that he has a detached retina and if he keeps fighting he'll end up blind. His two handlers are greatly concerned with Mountainís well being, but for different reasons. Army (Rooney) doesnít want to see his friend get injured, but heís also worried about how someone like Mountain, whoís done nothing but box for the past 17 years, will provide for himself. He knows Mountainís prospects are limited, but he wants him to keep his dignity. The other man in the corner, Maish (Gleason), has a bigger stake in Mountain's future. He's made some pricey bets with the wrong people and now they're ready to collect. So, with Mountain as his only means of support, he wants to get him into some quick money with Rivera's dignity being of little interest. Army resents Maish's disrespect for Mountain (and rightfully so!), especially since Rivera holds Maish in the highest regard.

So Army tries to help Mountain get a "straight" job. During their search Rivera meets Grace Miller (Harris), a young employment office worker who takes an interest in helping the ex-boxer start a new life. It's the scenes between Harris and Quinn that really flesh out this movie. It makes your heart ache to see Mountain speak so bluntly about his limited abilities; he's not a man that feels sorry for himself, just a man who knows that his options are limited. But you also see the small fire lit inside the man once Miller shows some interest in him, and it breaks your heart even more when the inevitable collapse occurs. Julie Harris is fantastic as well. Her discomfort is palpable when Mountain mistakes her compassion for romantic interest, and we cringe with her when Mountain makes his fumbling move. We maintain our empathy for these 2 characters even after such an uncomfortable scene, and it's a credit to both actors that we do.

I also loved Jackie Gleason's performance. He's able to convey the moral struggle that someone in his position would go through with dramatic (but not overstated) flair. He's sold out the one man who trusts him most, and now he feels torn between continuing to do so or helping Mountain out. Gleason doesn't do this with overwrought scenes of pacing or looking into the middle distance, but with an occasional snap at Mountain or Army. It's obvious that it's his own self-loathing, rather than anger at them that causes the outbursts. I was really impressed with his non-Ralph Kramden subtlety. Mickey Rooney also manages to suppress his scenery-chewing ways and plays Mountain's true friend and caretaker with a constant hitch in his voice and tear in his eye. The acting was fantastic.

P.S. - I almost hate to mention it, because I don't want to poke fun at this great film, but this movie features a TRULY fantastic visual, one of those things that you never thought you'd see: Jackie Gleason, LITERALLY "ON THE RUN" from the loan sharks. "The Great One" in a full sprint is something you have to see to believe!

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The Fightin'! - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
While the actual boxing only filled the first 10 minutes of the movie, it's some fantastic stuff! A blurry POV shot from Rivera is how we begin, and we immediately notice that the young man dispensing the punishment is a Cassius Clay-era Muhammad Ali! His very first film role, but definitely not the last time he plays himself in a movie! The film has a number of cameos from former boxing greats, from Jack Dempsey to Willie Pep.

And a great deal of credit has to go to make-up man Dick Smith. The post-fight damage to Mountain Rivera's face looks fantastic and even holds up to some close-ups while the doctor in the film is checking him out. The more subtle swelling and scar tissue that Anthony Quinn has later in the movie was also great looking. This 40+ year old movie puts some of its younger contemporaries to shame in this aspect.

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Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
This former tele-play written by Rod Serling (of "Twilight Zone" fame) looks fantastic on the big screen. All of the performances are just about spot on perfect, resisting the urge to go too hammy or maudlin. That's saying something considering we've got Buford T. Justice, Andy Hardy, and Zorba the Greek sharing the bill! It's a simple tale told in a straightforward and entertaining way. It pulled me in and made me care about the life of Mountain Rivera. It's a must see for fans of the boxing genre.



Rob Tillisch
3/30/05
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Starring: Anthony Quinn,
Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris
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