Cast & Crew
Early one morning in New York City, Nick Benko, the venal head of a boxing syndicate, offers washed-up sportswriter Eddie Willis the job of promoting Benko's new find, a towering giant from Argentina named Toro Moreno. While watching Toro work out in the ring, Eddie comments that the giant possesses a powder puff punch and a glass jaw, to which Benko matter-of-factly replies that he plans to fix all of Toro's fights to generate revenues. Broke and unemployed, Eddie accepts Benko's offer and suggests kicking off the campaign in far off California. Although Eddie's wife Beth objects that working as a press agent is beneath him, Eddie heads for California with the good-natured, trusting Toro and the boxer's loyal manager, Luis Agrandi. In Los Angeles, Eddie fabricates a web of lies about the unknown boxer's triumphs and parades him around in a bus bearing his image. Eddie asks his old friend, sportscaster Art Leavitt, to join him at Toro's first match against Sailor Rigazzo, a contender for the heavyweight crown. When Rigazzo realizes that he can handily beat the lumbering Toro and refuses to throw the fight, Rigazzo's manager blinds him with a towel doused in chemicals, assuring the boxer's loss. When Toro is declared the winner, Rigazzo kicks the towel toward Art, who detects the odor of chemicals and calls for an inquiry. Upon learning that he is to be investigated, Benko offers Eddie ten percent of the profits to quash the hearing. Unable to resist the lure of financial security, Eddie goes to see Art and asks him to withhold his testimony. Art responds by showing Eddie an interview he has filmed with a destitute, punch-drunk boxer, who was cast aside by his boxing managers once he had outlived his usefulness. Then, as a favor to Eddie, Art agrees to say that the match could have been honest. Afterward, when Jim Weyerhause, the spokesmen for the managers, demands a bigger cut of the gate, Eddie, influenced by Art's film, insists on paying the boxers directly. Weyerhause, who views boxers as little more than animals, at first objects, but finally accedes to Eddie's terms. As Toro crosses the West, defeating all his opponents, excitement builds in the press. When Beth asks Benko for permission to join her husband, Benko demurs on the grounds that her presence would impede Eddie's momentum. Benko and Beth finally join the tour in Chicago, where Toro is to meet Gus Dundee, the recently defeated champion. There, Agrandi, who has not seen a penny of Toro's winnings, asks Benko for money to send home to Toro's mother, but Benko denies his request. Upon meeting with Gus, Eddie is disturbed to find that the former champion has not yet recovered from his debilitating defeat by Buddy Brannen, and still suffers from splitting headaches. Annoyed by Agrandi's advocacy of Toro, Benko has the manager's visa revoked, thus forcing him to return home to Argentina immediately. That night, Eddie is awakened by a phone call informing him that Toro has run away. When Eddie finds Toro, surrounded by a band of Benko's bat-wielding thugs, Toro begs to go home. After his promises of fame and fortune fail to placate Toro, Eddie vows that they will both quit after Toro fights Buddy for the championship. Although Gus has a severe nosebleed, he is forced to face Toro in the ring. Unable to defend himself, Gus staggers and then collapses to the boos of the bloodthirsty crowd. After he is carried off in a coma, Gus is diagnosed as suffering from a preexisting hemorrhage aggravated by Toro's blows. Although he was fully aware of Gus's condition, Benko blames the boxing commission and referee for the boxer's injuries, and then uses Gus's downfall to glorify Toro. After Gus dies on the operating table, Beth asks Eddie to quit and return to New York with her, and when Eddie insists on staying to the end to collect his payoff, Beth leaves him in disgust. At a press conference before the championship bout in New York City, Buddy, angry that Toro was credited with Gus's demise, boasts that he killed Buddy and that Toro will be his next victim. Soon after, a priest summons Toro to his church and shows him a letter from Mrs. Moreno, asking her son to come home and atone for killing a man. When Toro pleads to return to Argentina, Eddie plays on his guilt by reminding the boxer of his obligations to the syndicate. Concerned about Buddy's threats, Eddie finally tells Toro that all his matches have been fixed, and to prove his allegations, directs George, the over-the-hill boxer who has trained Toro, to deck the fighter with one punch. Eddie then instructs Toro to stay down for the count with Buddy and throw the fight. Disregarding Eddie's advice, Toro slugs back, enraging Buddy who delights in brutalizing the hapless boxer. After Toro is carried from the ring with a broken jaw, George comments that some guys can sell out while others cannot. After the match, Eddie goes to collect his share of the proceeds and is handed $26,000 by Leo, Benko's bookkeeper. When Benko announces that he has sold Toro's contract to Weyerhause for $75,000, Eddie asks for Toro's earnings and is given $49.07. Outraged, Eddie goes to the hospital to take Toro home. Still trusting Eddie, Toro confides that he plans to buy a house for his mother with his share of the earnings. Ashamed, Eddie hands Toro his $26,000 and then puts him on a plane for Argentina. Eddie then goes home to reconcile with Beth and soon after Benko pounds at the door and demands that Eddie reimburse him the $75,000 he had to repay Weyerhause. After Eddie retorts that he has decided to write an exposé of the boxing rackets, Benko threatens him and leaves. Slamming the door after Benko, Eddie sits down at his typewriter and begins to write.
Jersey Joe Wolcott
Harold J. Stone
J. Lewis Smith
Alfred E. Spencer
The Harder They Fall
Humphrey Bogart plays Eddie, who's tired of living from paycheck to paycheck and wants to earn some real dough so he and his wife, Beth, will have more secure lives. He gets his chance from greedy promoter Nick Benko, who wants him to publicize Toro Moreno, an untalented Argentine boxer. Nick's plan is to steer Toro through a string of fixed fights until he reaches the championship level, and since Toro's too honest to engage in such a scam, they'll keep the fixes secret and let him think he's actually winning the bouts. At first Eddie says he could never sink that low, but it takes about five seconds for Nick's money to overcome his reluctance. Everyone knows boxing is fixed, Nick argues, so publicizing Toro is just publicizing an actor in a show, and who could object to that?
Actor or not, Toro definitely looks the part, enormously tall and rippling with muscle. In the ring, though, he's helpless and hopeless a muscle-bound lug with "a powder-puff punch and a glass jaw," as Eddie accurately puts it. The scheme goes according to plan, though. Every fight is carefully fixed, Toro throws wild punches for a round or two, and suddenly his opponent is down for the count and Toro thinks his strength and skill have triumphed yet again. Eventually there's one fight to go before the championship bout. Toro has to fight a former champ named Gus Dundee, who's just lost a punishing match to Buddy Brannen, the reigning champ. Toro fights Gus with his usual ineptitude, and this time he not only wins, he apparently kills Gus, who dies right after the bout. What actually killed Gus was a brain injury from his earlier fight with the champ, but Toro thinks his punches were to blame, and he feels so guilty that he vows to give up boxing for good. Eddie now tells Toro the truth about the fixed fights, and to preserve his honor Toro decides to fight the champ even though he's sure to get his brains pounded out. After the big match Eddie has to deal with Nick's vengeful associates, and the story closes with a series of meaningful twists.
Movies about boxers have a long history, from silent pictures like D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms  and Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring  to modern contenders like Body and Soul , Fat City , Rocky , and Raging Bull . None has a more fiercely critical view of the sport than The Harder They Fall, which pulls no punches about it; for an illustration, compare the hulking figure of Mike Lane, who plays Toro, with the movie-star looks of Paul Newman, who played Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me , released a few weeks later. The movie and its message are based on an eponymous 1947 novel by Budd Schulberg, the author of What Makes Sammy Run? and screenwriter of On the Waterfront  and A Face in the Crowd , among other films. Toro's character was inspired by the real-life heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, also an immigrant and a gigantic man height almost 6'6", weight 284 pounds who was accused of benefiting from fights that were fixed without his knowledge. Carnera tried to sue the filmmakers for impugning his good name, but didn't succeed.
Schulberg was hired to write the movie version of The Harder They Fall but insisted on working at home so he wouldn't have to see Columbia boss Harry Cohn, who had repeatedly insulted Schulberg's father, B.P. Schulberg, when he was a Paramount chief years earlier. Cohn vetoed the arrangement, Schulberg quit, and the gifted Philip Yordan took over the assignment, crafting a consistently hard-hitting screenplay. He also produced the picture. (It's ironic that Yordan had acted as a front for blacklisted actors during the McCarthy era, whereas Schulberg had been a friendly witness for the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951.)
The director was Mark Robson, who started his career as a film editor he refined his editing and directing skills on Val Lewton's great 1940s horror movies and his expertise shows in the picture's vigorous pacing and edgy shot-to-shot montage. Burnett Guffey scored an Academy Award nomination for his razor-sharp cinematography, which reaches a savage pinnacle in the championship fight scene, a brutal nightmare that gives Raging Bull a run for its money.
Bogart gives such a solid, understated performance that it's hard to tell he had throat cancer and was chronically tired during the shoot; this was his last picture, released a few months before his death in 1957. Rod Steiger's blustery portrayal of Nick makes a rich contrast with Bogart's work, but Bogart didn't like his Method acting techniques. "This scratch-your-ass-and-mumble school of acting doesn't please me," he grumbled to a friend an odd complaint, since Steiger is more a shouter than a mumbler in the film. Jan Sterling doesn't make much of an impression as Beth, but Lane is perfect in his screen debut as Toro the powder-puff puncher. Also in the top-flight supporting cast are Harold J. Stone as the sportscaster, Nehemiah Persoff as one of Nick's henchmen, Carlos Montalbán as Toro's manager, and real-life boxers Max Baer as Buddy the champ, Pat Comiskey as Gus the former champ, Jersey Joe Walcott as a gentle trainer named George, and poor, sad Joe Greb as poor, sad Joe Greb.
Director: Mark Robson
Producer: Philip Yordan
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, based on the novel by Budd Schulberg
Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Art Direction: William Flannery
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Eddie Willis), Rod Steiger (Nick Benko), Jan Sterling (Beth Willis), Mike Lane (Toro Moreno), Max Baer (Buddy Brannen), Jersey Joe Walcott (George), Edward Andrews (Jim Weyerhause), Harold J. Stone (Art Leavitt), Carlos Montalban (Luís Agrandi), Nehemiah Persoff (Leo), Felice Orlandi (Vince Fawcett), Herbie Faye (Max), Rusty Lane (Danny McKeogh), Jack Albertson (Pop).
by David Sterritt
The Harder They Fall
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
ROD STEIGER, 1925 - 2002
From the docks of New York to the rural back roads of Mississippi to the war torn Russian steppes, Rod Steiger reveled in creating some of the most overpowering and difficult men on the screen. He could be a total scoundrel, embodying Machiavelli's idiom that "it's better to be feared than loved" in the movies. But as an actor he refused to be typecast and his wide range included characters who were secretly tormented (The Pawnbroker, 1965) or loners (Run of the Arrow, 1965) or eccentrics (The Loved One, 1965).
Along with Marlon Brando, Steiger helped bring the 'Method School' from the Group Theater and Actors Studio in New York to the screens of Hollywood. The Method technique, taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, insisted on complete immersion into the character's psyche and resulted in intense, dramatic performances and performers. Steiger made his first significant screen appearance as Brando's older brother in On the Waterfront (1954). Their climatic scene together in a taxicab is one of the great moments in American cinema.
It was a short leap from playing a crooked lawyer in On the Waterfront to playing the shady boxing promoter in The Harder They Fall (1956). Based on the tragic tale of true-life fighter Primo Carnera, The Harder They Fall details the corruption behind the scenes of professional boxing bouts. Steiger is a fight manager named Nick Benko who enlists newspaperman Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart in his final screen appearance) to drum up publicity for a fixed prizefight. While the boxing scenes were often brutally realistic, the most powerful dramatic moments took place between Steiger and Bogart on the sidelines.
As mob boss Al Capone (1959), Steiger got to play another man you loved to hate. He vividly depicted the criminal from his swaggering early days to his pathetic demise from syphilis. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Steiger was the only American in the international cast, playing the hateful and perverse Komarovsky. During the production of Dr. Zhivago, Steiger often found himself at odds with director David Lean. Schooled in the British tradition, Lean valued the integrity of the script and demanded that actors remain faithful to the script. Steiger, on the other hand, relied on improvisation and spontaneity. When kissing the lovely Lara (played by Julie Christie), Steiger jammed his tongue into Christie's mouth to produce the desired reaction - disgust. It worked! While it might not have been Lean's approach, it brought a grittier edge to the prestige production and made Komarovsky is a detestable but truly memorable figure.
Steiger dared audiences to dislike him. As the smalltown southern Sheriff Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night (1967), Steiger embodied all the prejudices and suspicions of a racist. When a black northern lawyer, played by Sidney Poitier, arrives on the crime scene, Gillespie is forced to recognize his fellow man as an equal despite skin color. Here, Steiger's character started as a bigot and developed into a better man. He finally claimed a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sheriff Gillespie.
Steiger was an actor's actor. A chameleon who didn't think twice about diving into challenging roles that others would shy away from. In the Private Screenings interview he did with host Robert Osborne he admitted that Paul Muni was one of his idols because of his total immersion into his roles. Steiger said, "I believe actors are supposed to create different human beings." And Steiger showed us a rich and diverse cross section of them.
by Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
The people, Eddie, the people! Don't tell me about the people, Eddie. The people sit in front of their little TVs with their bellies full of beer and fall asleep. What do the people know, Eddie? Don't tell me about the people, Eddie!- Nick Benko
I didn't come here to work out !- Eddie
The fight game today is like show business. There's no real fighters anymore, they're all actors. The best showman becomes the champ!- Nick Benko
Don't fight it, Eddie! What are you trying to do, hold onto your self-respect? Did your self-respect help you hold your job? Did your self-respect give you a new column?- Nick Benko
I don't know, I don't know. What would people think of me?- Toro Moreno
What do you care what a bunch of bloodthirsty, screaming people think of you? Did you ever get a look at their faces? They pay a few lousy bucks hoping to see a man get killed. To hell with them! Think of yourself. Get your money and get out of this rotten business.- Eddie Willis
Loosely based on the career of fighter Primo Carnera.
Humphrey Bogart's last film.
According to unconfirmed Hollywood legend, Bogart was so sick during filming that his voice had to be re-dubbed by an impersonator.
According to a January 1947 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Dore Schary, then head of RKO, bought the film rights to Budd Schulberg's novel prior to its publication. At that time, Schary hoped to cast Robert Mitchum and Joseph Cotten in the starring roles. By November 1948, Howard Hughes had acquired a controlling interest in RKO and was angling to trade the film rights to Schulberg's novel to Warner Bros. in exchange for the services of Errol Flynn, according to a November 1948 Los Angeles Times news item. At that time, Warners intended to cast Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson in the starring roles. RKO retained the rights to the novel when the deal fell through, and by August 1950, the Los Angeles Times reported that independent producers Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna were to produce the film for RKO. According to a March 1955 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Wald, who was now an executive producer at Columbia, bought the film rights from Hughes for production by Columbia. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Fred Schweiller in the cast, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
Jersey Joe Wolcott, who played "George" in the picture, was the world heavyweight champion in 1951 and part of 1952. Reviewers commented on the similarity between "Toro" and former heavyweight boxer Primo Carnera. A May 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item notes the Italian-born Carnera filed a $1,500,000 lawsuit against Columbia for invasion of privacy. Carnera, who stood 6 feet 5 1/2 inches and had compiled an impressive array of knockout victories, which according to Hollywood Reporter, many observers believed were prearranged, charged that the character of "Toro" was based on him. On August 9 1956, a judge dismissed Carnera's suit on the grounds that a person who becomes a public figure waives his right to privacy. In a May 1991 interview in Daily Variety, Schulberg stated that the character of "Eddie Willis" was based on Harold Conrad, a journalist, press agent, screenwriter and boxing promoter. Philip Yordan, who produced the picture, stated that boxing arenas throughout the country refused him permission to film.
The Harder They Fall was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography. It also marked Bogart's last film. Bogart died of cancer on January 14, 1957. Many reviews compared The Harder They Fall to the 1954 film On the Waterfront (see below), another exposé written by Schulberg.
Released in United States Spring April 1956
Humphrey Bogart's last screen appearance; he died in 1957.
Released in United States Spring April 1956