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The Harder They Fall

(1956 b 109')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Adapted from Budd Schulberg’s novel, a sportswriter works as an agent to promote a South American boxer for a ruthless and crooked manager.

         Nick Benko (Rod Steiger) leaves in a car with men. The sports writer Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart) takes a taxi. By a boxing ring Nick says he does not want a press agent but a sports writer. Eddie comes in and asks Nick what he wants. Nick says he is a big talent and offers him an important position working for the boxer Toro Moreno (Mike Lane) for $250 a week plus expenses. Nick has Toro box with George (Jersey Joe Walcott), but he does not take punches well. Eddie says he cannot fight well and does not want to do it. Nick says the fighters are all actors these days. Eddie asks what happens in fights Nick can’t fix. Nick says he will help Eddie if he helps him. Eddie suggests they try him out in California. Eddie shakes hands and says he got him. Nick asks Eddie why he accepted. Nick says he just lost his regular column.

         At a bar Eddie sits at a table and talks on the phone to Art in Los Angeles. Leo (Nehemiah Persoff) tells Eddie he is going tonight. Eddie says okay and tells Beth Willis (Jan Sterling) about it. She says it is sad he is working as a fighter’s press agent.

         On the plane Eddie tells Toro through the Spanish translator Luis Agrandi (Carlos Montalban) that he will be answering the questions. A newspaper announces that the South American boxer Toro has arrived for training. A Toro bus takes them to the Beverley Hills Hotel. In the bar Eddie talks to sports writers about the new boxer. TV sportscaster Art Leavitt (Harold J. Stone) comes in and shakes hands with Eddie. He says he gave the boy a plug on his TV show. Eddie buys him a drink. Art asks why he turned press agent, and Nick says he needed the money.

         In a boxing arena the champion of the Navy’s Pacific fleet beats up Toro Moreno who does not even punch. Some men in the first row call foul. Between rounds the boxer is told to go down, and in the next round he is knocked down. Art tells Eddie he wished he had not come. The crowd boos. While the boxer is in the shower, two men come in and use a knife that causes blood to flow.

         In Art’s office Luis asks Eddie why the people were angry. Two women arrive looking for a man who goes out with them. Nick calls and talks to Eddie. He offers Eddie ten percent of Toro. Eddie insists that he wants as much as Leo gets with a written contract. Nick agrees if Eddie gets them out of the jam. Eddie tells Leo he gets ten percent too and is now the manager. Eddie asks Art to help them, but Art says he won’t lie. Eddie asks Art for a favor he owes him for helping him get his first job in New York. Eddie says he has to lie to keep his job. Art shows Eddie some film for his next show. Art interviews retired boxer Joey and asks him how much he made as a fighter. He asks him what he is doing now, and he says he is looking for work. Joey says he has no regular trade. Eddie still asks Art to keep his mouth shut. Art says he will tell the commission it looked like an honest fight.

         Eddie at a typewriter works on Toro’s story. A pretty woman comes in and puts her arms around Toro. Leo comes in and says managers are coming up. Leo advises him to talk to them one at a time, but Eddie says they have to work fast. In another room Max (Herbie Faye) comes in. Jim Weyerhause (Edward Andrews) says they all have fighters who cannot box unless they say so. He asks Eddie to pay them $1,000 each. Eddie tells Leo to pay the fighters who take dives after each fight. The managers say they have to pay them. Weyerhause says fighters come and go, but the managers stay. Weyerhause insists that they will pay the fighters. Eddie sends them away. Weyerhause comes back and has a drink.

         Toro wins several fights in California and Nevada. Toro is shown with boy scouts in a uniform. Eddie sits around a table with two men and Mrs. Harding, and he offers a crippled children’s charity a contribution of $25,000 if Toro fights in the main event. Eddie says the contribution will be anonymous. Her attorney advises her to accept it. Eddie says money is not evil. What matters is how it is used.

         On television Nick watches the match sponsored by the Crippled Children’s Fund. Before the fight the heavy-weight contenders Buddy Brannen (Max Baer) and Gus Dundee are introduced. Rocky Mason is fighting Toro. In the first round Toro knocks him down for the count. Nick sends his children to bed and offers Beth Willis another drink. She wants to join her husband Eddie on the coast. Nick says Eddie has to stay the way he is. He asks her to stay home and not write letters. She says she won’t ruin it and then leaves.

         Beth arrives at home, answers the phone, and talks to Eddie. He says he is wiring her money to spend. He says he got her letter. A woman’s hand hangs up the phone for Eddie. Beth answers the phone again and tells Eddie she misses him.

         Weyerhause tells Eddie that his fighter won’t take a dive. The fighter Chief Firebird says he has pride and will not cooperate. Eddie tells him they can put chicken wire under his mouthpiece that will cause him to bleed so much that the fight will be stopped. During the fight the referee looks at Chief Firebird and calls the fight.

         On the bus Luis tells Toro that Eddie is a fine man. The press greet them as they get off the bus. Nick welcomes them in a luxurious hotel and tells Eddie he is doing a great job. They go into Nick’s room. Luis asks for more money, and Nick tells him they are in the red. He tells Leo to get rid of him. Eddie asks Nick if the Dundee fight is fixed, and Nick says it is. Eddie is skeptical, but he is introduced to Gus. He says he has a pain in his head. He says it was not Buddy Brannen’s punch that got him. He is allergic to penicillin. Eddie tells Nick that Gus is punched out. Nick says that is why he is taking a dive. Nick shows Eddie his room, and there Eddie finds Beth. She says Benko told her she could join him. Eddie says she does not have to take orders from him.

         Luis argues with Nick, and Eddie comes in. Nick says Luis is flying home. Eddie says Toro will be lost without him. Nick says he decided, but Eddie suggests that Nick buy him out. Nick offers to give him $5,000 on the plane. Nick tells Leo to get Agrandi out of there. They leave, and Nick asks Eddie not to argue in front of people. Eddie asks if five grand makes them look good.

         Eddie and Beth are in bed, and Eddie gets a call and says he will be right down. He tells Beth that Toro is running away. Eddie, Nick, and Leo run and find Toro surrounded by men with clubs. He sees Eddie and calls to him. Eddie goes down, and Toro says he wants to go home. He asks why Luis left, and Eddie says his passport expired. Toro says Eddie is his friend. Eddie says he will be the first South American champion of the world. Eddie admits that he is doing it for the money. Toro agrees to go back to the hotel.

         In the arena Eddie and Beth find a seat near Art, who says hello. Beth asks Eddie what is the matter with Art. Nick sends Leo out. Leo goes and asks Toro how he is feeling. Leo says he has to knock Dundee flat in order to fight the champion. Leo goes back and tells Nick that Dundee does not want to fight. The two boxers enter the ring in Chicago. Nick tells Leo he had better make it look good. They both are punching. In the second round Dundee goes down. Nick says it looks like he is not trying. In the third round Dundee appears dazed and falls down and is counted out. Fans boo. Nick gives orders to Eddie and Leo. Eddie leaves Beth. Dundee is carried out on a stretcher. Beth asks Art to take her to town because she wants to talk to him.

         In the hospital Dundee’s manager says that Dundee is still in a coma and that it was because of the Brannen fight. Nick says the commission approved the fight. Nick says they are staying there to show respect. Nick tells Eddie to make up a story that Dundee was not finished because of the Brannen fight. Reporters come in and ask Eddie if Toro killed anyone in South America. Nick says that they do not want the same thing to happen with Brannen. The referee should stop the fight if necessary. Nick offers up a prayer for Gus.

         Eddie comes back to his room and tells Beth that Gus died on the operating table. Beth tells Eddie they are going home. She says she talked with Art and tells Eddie that he should have listened to him. Eddie says he cannot go back now. If he did, Nick would cut him off. Beth says if he does not leave, he will be like Nick. She tells Eddie he could get another job. Beth leaves with her bags. Eddie gets a call from Nick and says he will be right over.

         Nick comes into a party, and Nick shows him the newspaper article about Toro. Nick says they are on top of the world. Toro shows them the woman he wants to marry.

         The Toro bus arrives in New York. At a press conference Buddy Brannen and Toro Moreno sit at a table and sign the contract. Afterward Brannen complains to Eddie that he is writing phony stories about Toro. Nick takes them into a room. Brannen says he did all the work, and Toro only tapped him. Nick tells Brannen that he has to carry Toro for six rounds. Nick says the deal is that the fight must go at least six rounds, but Brannen says there is no deal. Nick says Toro has to have a real fight, and this is it.

         In a cab Nick tells Eddie he has to decide where he stands it. Nick says the odds are 5-1. He wants Eddie to help change the odds to 9-5 so they can bet on Brannen and make more money. Eddie goes home to Beth and says he just got in. She says he is still with the same outfit. He asks if she still feels the same way as in Chicago. She says she does, and he leaves.

         Eddie is told that Toro was taken to a church. Eddie takes a taxi and finds Toro talking with a priest, who says his mother wants him to come home right away because of the man who was killed. Toro asks Eddie to help him go home. Eddie asks Toro if he trusts him, and Toro says he does and goes with him.

         Several men are meeting with Nick, Toro, and Eddie. Nick pleads with Toro that they all have been working to help him. Nick says he did not do it for money but so that he could have a champion. He says if Toro quits now, he would be robbing each of them. Toro says he must do what the priest says is right. Nick tells them to get Toro out of there. Eddie and Leo remain, and Nick tells Eddie he has to get Toro into the ring. Eddie says they have been lying to him. Eddie says he will try telling him the truth, and Nick says okay. Eddie goes into a room with Toro and tells him that all the fighters he defeated were in fixed fights. Eddie says that Toro has no real punch, and he is a bum. Eddie says Nick paid him to make up fairy tales about Toro. Eddie calls in George and tells him to belt Toro in order to show him. George hits Toro. Eddie apologizes and says he could not kill anyone. Toro asks what he should do. Eddie tells him to fight Brannen so that he will end up with money. Toro will not win this fight. Eddie says Brannen killed Dundee and wants to use Toro to prove it. George advises Toro to stay away from him and then to go down and stay down. Toro says he will do what George says.

         Before the fight, George sees Toro praying. Then he goes into the ring. The announcer asks for a moment of silence to remember Gus Dundee. In the first round Brannen knocks Toro down and beats him up. Toro is knocked down again and gets up. Toro’s eye is badly injured. In the second round Toro knocks Brannen down. He gets up and then beats Toro more. Toro fights back but then is knocked down. He gets up, and Brannen uses him like a punching bag. George tells Toro to stay down, and he treats his eye. In the third round Brannen punches Toro, who falls down, spits out his mouthpiece, and is counted out.

         Art tells police that he wants to see how Toro is. Eddie walks past him and goes in to Toro. Eddie asks how bad he is hurt. The doctor says his jaw is broken. Eddie tells Toro he will get him his money, and he can go home. Toro walks with help. Eddie asks George why Toro took that awful beating. George says some guys cannot sell out.

         Eddie goes into Nick’s office, and Weyerhause says they can make money by taking Toro on tour so that others can beat him. Nick says he has another fight in him. Weyerhause says he better have many fights for what he is paying for him which includes the bus. Eddie objects, and Nick gives him an envelope with his share, $26,000. Eddie asks what Toro is getting and says he promised to bring him his money. Leo goes out to look up how much it is. Eddie asks Nick how he can make a contract with Weyerhause without asking Toro. Nick says he owns a stable and does not have to ask the horse. Eddie says Toro is not a horse but a human being. Weyerhause says fighters are not human. Eddie asks how he would know. Leo brings in a book. He says he gave Toro half of his fifty percent to Max. Then Toro’s part is divided again. Nick says they have to deduct expenses. Eddie asks what Toro gets. Leo tells Eddie the expenses he ran up. Eddie asks how much, and Leo says Toro gets $49. Eddie says the gate was over a million, and they are using legal tricks. Eddie says he took the worst beating he ever saw, and he has a broken jaw. Nick threatens Eddie to take it slow. Eddie is surrounded by Nick’s men and walks out.

         Eddie walks outside and looks at the Toro bus with its pictures of Toro and list of his winning fights. A man is following Eddie, who manages to leave with Toro in a taxi. Toro asks if he is going home, and Eddie says he is. Toro says he knows they are thieves, and he asks how much money he got for him. Toro says he wants money to buy a house for his mother. Eddie gives him his envelope with $26,000. Toro says that is a lot of money in his country. Toro boards an airplane and waves goodbye to Eddie.

         Eddie tells Beth to hold on to her job for a while, and she says she will. Eddie answers the door, and Nick comes in with two men. Nick asks Eddie where Toro is. Eddie says he put him on a plane and sent him home. Nick says he has to get him back or pay him $75,000. Nick accuses Eddie of stealing his merchandise. Nick demands Eddie give back the $26,000. Eddie says he will pay him back by writing a series of articles about Nick, who asks who will listen to Eddie, a nobody. Eddie says a nobody does not have much to lose. Eddie says if muscle men work him over, he can still write from a hospital bed. Eddie tells Nick he is in trouble. Eddie says he is fighting for Toro and himself and all the bums who got knocked around in the ring. Nick says Eddie is not worth anything and leaves. Eddie sits down at his typewriter and starts to work. Beth pours a cup of coffee and takes it to him. Eddie begins his story, “The boxing business must rid itself of the evil influence of racketeers and crooked managers, even if it takes an Act of Congress to do it.” Beth reads it and smiles.

         This drama exposes the brutality of the boxing business and shows how fights may be fixed. The story reflects the life of Primo Camera so much that he sued the filmmakers without success.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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