Plot: Eddie (Humphrey Bogart) has been a respected sports journalist for well over a decade, but despite his reputation and skills, he finds himself out of work when his newspaper goes under. While he would normally never work for someone like known crook Nick Benko (Rod Steiger), he agrees to work as a press agent for Benko’s new boxer, as he has no other employment options. Benko’s fighter is Toro Moreno, a hulking mountain of a man who looks like a million bucks, but simply doesn’t the toughness or skill to back it up. So while Benko lines up stiffs to take a dive, Eddie works the press and all the while, struggles with his actions and tries to make the best of a bad situation. As time passes an Eddie sinks deeper into inner turmoil, can he put his ethics aside or will his conscience win out in the end?
Entertainment Value: A dark, pessimistic look at the backrooms of the boxing world, The Harder They Fall is a well crafted drama that would feature the final performance of Humphrey Bogart. The narrative is rock solid and shows the seedier side of the sports realm, but while you might think the film’s content is dated, it would remain on point for decades. The political maneuvering and corruption that took place in the threads of The Harder They Fall would be ever present in boxing long after the film’s release, as talent was often used and manipulated. The movie pulls no punches in that regard, as Moreno is used and abused by those close him, with no regard for his interests, which winds up as a crucial narrative point. The pace is even and the film keeps the melodrama toned down, so the story feels serious and believable, even when tempers flare and emotions reach a breaking point. I found this to be a strong, unflinching drama that sticks with you after the credits have passed.
This was the final screen appearance for cinema legend Humphrey Bogart and while some performers limp through their final efforts, Bogart is powerful here and turns in some impressive work. He seems invested in the role and brings an authentic presence, which elevates the material and he is able to convey the inner struggle quite well, just a remarkable effort. I especially appreciate how he is able to bring across so much emotion and passion in the role, but never goes over the top and keeps the drama natural in scope. His scenes with Rod Steiger are some of the movie’s highlights, as both men are in fine form and the banter is well orchestrated. Steiger’s turn is quite good overall, but he really comes to life when he duels with Bogart, as that seems to bring out the fire in his performance. The cast also includes Max Baer, Mile Lane, Jan Sterling, and Harold J. Stone.