AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Harder They Fall
Director: Mark Robson (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1956
Production Date:   31 Oct--29 Dec 1955
Duration (in mins):   107-108
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Humphrey Bogart (Eddie Willis)  
    Rod Steiger (Nick Benko)  
    Jan Sterling (Beth Willis)  
    Mike Lane (Toro Moreno)  
    Max Baer (Buddy Brannan)  
    Jersey Joe Wolcott (George)  
    Edward Andrews (Jim Weyerhause)  
    Harold J. Stone (Art Leavitt)  
    Carlos Montalban (Luis Agrandi)  
    Nehemiah Persoff (Leo)  
    Felice Orlandi (Vince Fawcett)  
    Herbie Faye (Max)  
    Rusty Lane (Danny McKeogh)  
    Jack Albertson (Pop)  
    Val Avery (Frank)  
    Tommy Herman (Tommy)  
    Vinnie DeCarlo (Joey)  
    Pat Comiskey (Gus Dundee)  
    Matt Murphy (Sailor Rigazzo)  
    Abel Fernández (Chief Firebird)  
    Marian Carr (Alice)  
    J. Lewis Smith (Brannen's manager)  
    Everett Glass (Minister)  
    William Roerick (Lawyer)  
    Lillian Culver (Mrs. Harding)  
    Mort Mills (Reporter)  
    Jack Daly (Reporter)  
    Richard Norris (Reporter)  
    Bill Henry (Reporter)  
    Dennis Moore (Reporter)  
    Alan Reynolds (Reporter)  
    Sandy Sanders (Reporter)  
    Don Kohler (Reporter)  
    Ralph Gamble (Reporter)  
    Charles Tannen (Reporter)  
    Mark Scott (Reporter)  
    Russ Whiteman (Reporter)  
    Angela Stevens (Girl)  
    Jean Smith (Girl)  
    George Cisar (Fight manager)  
    Matty Fain (Fight manager)  
    Eddie Garr (Fight manager)  
    Pat Dane (Shirley)  
    Julie Benedic (Statuesque blonde)  
    Joanne Rio (Las Vegas showgirl)  
    Dorothy Gordon (Las Vegas showgirl)  
    Michael Granger (Doctor)  
    Paul Frees (Priest)  
    Gloria Victor (Pretty girl)  
    Patti Lawler (Vince's girl)  
    Diane Mumby (Vince's girl)  
    Pat Valentino (Milk fund fighter)  
    Joe Grebb (Dishwasher fighter)  
    Frank Hagney (Referee)  
    Joe Herrera (Referee)  
    Abe Roth (Referee)  
    Jim Wilson (Oklahoma referee)  
    Wally Rose (Salinas referee)  
    Frank Mitchell (Dundee referee)  
    Benny Goldberg (San Diego referee)  
    Jim O'Gatty (Milk fund referee)  
    Al Baffert (Fighter)  
    Tommy Garland (Fighter)  
    Jack Roper (Fighter)  
    Fred Shaw (Fighter)  
    Charles Horvath (Fighter)  
    Ted Pavelec (Fighter)  
    Roy Jenson (Fighter)  
    Joseph Mell (Ring announcer)  
    Bill Baldwin (Ring announcer, Oklahoma City)  
    Bob Hopkins (Ring announcer, San Diego)  
    Victor Holbrook (Fight fan)  
    Elaine Edwards (Vince's girl, Milk fund fight)  
    Wynn Chandler (Woman fight fan)  
    Ferris Taylor (House doctor, Chicago)  
    Ed Chandler (TV announcer, Chicago)  
    Peter Leeds (Ring announcer, Chicago)  
    Harry Lewis (Ring announcer, New York)  
    Tina Carver (Nick's wife)  
    Anthony Blankley (Nick's son)  
    Penny Carpenter (Nick's daughter)  
    Irving Mitchell (New York house doctor)  
    Emily Belser (New York fight fan)  
    Eli Rill    
    Don Kelly    
    Mark Lowell    
    Gil Frye    
    William Marks    
    Charles Gibb    

Summary: 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.  

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Mark Robson (Dir)
  Milton Feldman (Asst dir)
Producer: Jerry Wald (Exec prod)
  Philip Yordan (Prod)
Writer: Philip Yordan (Scr)
Photography: Burnett Guffey (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: William Flannery (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms (Film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kierman (Set dec)
  Alfred E. Spencer (Set dec)
Music: Arthur Morton (Orch)
  Hugo Friedhofer (Mus comp)
  Lionel Newman (Cond)
Sound: John Livadary (Rec supv)
  Lambert Day (Sd)
Make Up: Clay Campbell (Makeup)
  Helen Hunt (Hair styles)
Production Misc: John Indrisano (Tech adv)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel The Harder They Fall by Budd Schulberg (New York, 1947).
Authors: Budd Schulberg

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 20/3/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP6097

PCA NO: 17754
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  b&w:
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Boxing
 
Subjects (Major): Boxers
  Boxing
  Fixed fights
  Money
  Press agents
 
Subjects (Minor): Boxing managers
  Corruption
  Gambling
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Marriage
  New York City
  Press conferences
  Racketeers
  Referees (Sports)
  Sports reporters

Note: According to a Jan 1947 LAEx 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 Nov 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 Nov 1948 LAT 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 Aug 1950, the LAT reported that independent producers Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna were to produce the film for RKO. According to a Mar 1955 LAEx news item, Wald, who was now an executive producer at Columbia, bought the film rights from Hughes for production by Columbia. Although a HR 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 HR 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 HR , many observers believed were prearranged, charged that the character of “Toro” was based on him. On Aug 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 DV , 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 14 Jan 1957. Many reviews compared The Harder They Fall to the 1954 film On the Waterfront (see below), another exposé written by Schulberg.
 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   31 Mar 1956.   
Daily Variety   23 Mar 56   p. 4.
Daily Variety   24 May 1991.   
Film Daily   28 Mar 56   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Oct 1955   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Dec 1955   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Mar 56   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 May 1956   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Aug 1956   p. 1.
Los Angeles Examiner   21 Jan 1947.   
Los Angeles Examiner   17 Oct 1955.   
Los Angeles Times   12 Nov 1948.   
Los Angeles Times   15 Aug 1950.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   31 Mar 56   p. 841.
New York Times   10 May 56   p. 26.
Variety   28 Mar 56   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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