Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Made in 1962, 'Requiem for a Heavyweight' tells the tale of aging heavyweight, Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn), who after an encounter with a young Cassius Clay, must give up the ring or risk losing his sight. While he tries to find work with the help of employment agent, Julie Harris, beloved, but flawed manager, Maish (Jackie Gleason), tries to save his life after getting in debt to mobster, Ma Greeny.
The movie opens with a disorienting subjective shot (recalling for me the opening of Mamoulian's 'Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde'), closing when Quinn looks in the mirror at his disfigured face. It's powerful stuff from the outset and builds inexorably to a heart-breaking finale. Rod Serling, the man behind 'The Twilight Zone', wrote the screenplay. While I disagree with the common view that Serling wrote the best 'Twilight Zone' episodes (Matheson and Beaumont did that), there's no doubt he could write powerful drama (watch 'Seven Days in May' for proof). This is a fine work by Serling. Any writer who can make an Indian headdress and a war whoop into nails every bit as painful as those of a crucifixion, gets my vote. But he does have help.
Fine though the direction is, and beautifully noir-ish as the cinematography might be, it is the unlikely threesome of Anthony Quinn, Mickey Rooney and Jackie Gleeson who push this movie into greatness. They are electrifying. Quinn, as full of mumbles as any Stallone, is the clear, and superior, model for Rocky. But he invests Rivera with a dignity and honour that Stallone could only dream of. It's easy to dismiss Quinn as a minor lead, but a few moment's consideration of a career that included roles in 'La Strada', 'Lust for Life' and 'Warlock', would should what a mistake this would be. This is a heart-wrenching performance and one of his best. But he is matched by a wonderfully underplayed Rooney as his coach, and a powerhouse performance by Gleeson as his beloved Maish. Gleeson, not dissimilar to a more sympathetic Orson Welles, portrays all the complexity of a once good man fighting with his baser instincts. This from the man who became 'Smokey' in the 'Smokey and the Bandit' movies.
Anyhow forget your 'Million Dollar Baby's, this is the real deal. Beautiful characterisation, a strong, emotive story, clear direction and mesmeric performances. A small movie, but a great one.

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