If a boxer falls when nobody hits him is it still a knockout?
We've been neglecting French promo art lately, so here'a a little something—a poster for Plus dure sera la chute, which is better known as The Harder They Fall. This was painted by Jean Mascii, whose work we last saw several years ago when we talked about the 1960 thriller Plein soleil. We recommend having a look at that to get a better sense of Mascii's skill. He created a very interesting portrait of Humphrey Bogart for this effort. This was Bogart's last movie. He filmed it while gravely ill, having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but did his work in legendary style, a true professional, working long hours, shooting retakes, and generally doing all he could to prevent his condition from affecting the production.
Bogart plays a struggling sports writer hired by shady fight promoter Rod Steiger to be the press agent for his new discovery—a gigantic but glass-jawed carnival strongman from Argentina named Toro Moreno. Steiger wants Bogart to sell Toro as the next great heavyweight contender, but in order to do so they need to send him on a bum-of-the-month tour to knock out a series of hapless opponents paid to take dives. After Toro has been built up in the press as the second coming of the heavyweight division, Steiger plans to make a bundle with a match against the champ, played by Max Baer. Bogart signs on for this ride because after all his work in the newspaper business he has nothing, and wants to finally make real money. But it could cost his reputation, and because Toro has no clue the fights he's winning are fixed, the scheme can only end with the poor overconfident dupe slaughtered by the champ.
Steiger would win an Academy Award in 1967 for In The Heat of the Night, and here, more than a decade earlier, you can see that achievement as almost inevitable as you watch him dominate the screen. He's simply great in this, and Bogart gives an excellent performance too, failing physically but soldiering onward, using that world weary mug of his to impart a lifetime's worth of fatigue and disappointment. The movie also features Jan Sterling. We had no idea she'd gone in for rhinoplasty, and at first weren't positive it was her. It is though, and after writing just recently how gorgeous she was we're sad she didn't see her own perfection and instead chose to go under the surgeon's knife. But her body her choice. She's good as always, here playing Bogart's conscience, trying to keep him from sliding down the slippery slope to amorality.
There's another person who should be mentioned—Mike Lane as the lumbering Toro Moreno. This was his debut role, and you'd think there weren't many more parts out there for a guy standing 6'8”, but surprisingly he accumulated almost seventy acting credits, almost all on television, where he appeared in shows of every type, from Gunsmoke to Get Smart. Obviously, any vintage boxing movie involves mimetic acting, and the fighting here isn't realistic—quantum leaps in how to convincingly portray ring scenes came later—but they serve their purpose. And for boxing realists, the movie gets extra credit due to the presence of both Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. The Harder They Fall opened in March 1956, and had its French premiere today at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Fine, Toro, you're huge. Massive. Enormous. But you need to learn how to box or the champ is going to crush your face like a graham cracker. Hi, champ! Before we start, I just want to say I'm probably your biggest admir— I thought that whole graham cracker speech was just Bogie being colorful.
I’ve got a match for you—my fist and your face!
The National Police Gazette devoted more space to boxing than most magazines of its time, and Gazette editors especially loved using boxing photo-illustrations on their covers. The above, from January 1953, is yet another example—albeit an unusual one. You may think that this is actually just a bad painting, but no—it’s a colorized and retouched version of a famous photograph of heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott losing to younger, hungrier Rocky Marciano. It happened September 23, 1952 in Philadelphia, and Walcott—having scored a knockdown in the first round—was ahead on points in round 13 when he walked into Marciano’s right hook. Walcott was a guy who had fought hard all his life. He was the son of Haitian immigrants and had gone to work in a soup factory when he was only thirteen. He had won a lot of bouts, but had lost quite a few as well. He was also the oldest heavyweight champion ever at age thirty-seven. But even with all his experience, guile and drive, he had no chance of surviving the destructive power of a full-force Marciano right. Walcott hit the canvas, and the fight—as well as the best part of his career—was over.
But Jersey Joe Walcott didn’t just fade away—that would have been completely out of character. He had friends in Hollywood and three years later appeared on the silver screen with Humphrey Bogart in The Harder They Fall. He followed that up in 1962 when he acted in the television series Cain’s Hundred. He also became a boxing referee, and was in the ring when Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title in 1965. Walcott was heavily criticized for his officiating during that fight, which meant the end of his career as a ref. But he proved that some men are impossible to keep down when he became sheriff of Camden County,
New Jersey, and later head of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission, a position he held until the age of 70. In 1994 Jersey Joe Walcott died at age 80. He had been neither the greatest nor the least of boxing champions, but he had certainly been one of the most persistent.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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