The dank little room stunk of arseholes and BO. These places always did. Luckily the rubbing ointments took the edge off. To be honest Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera (Anthony Quinn) couldn’t smell shit. His flatten nose had been busted countless times, he even struggled to breathe.
The boxer was in a good mood. Bouncing on his feet, popping and ducking as he shadowed boxed around the room. He was generally feeling confident about what was gonna happen in the arena. You could hear the excited crowd mixed with loud pumping music thudding against the changing room walls. The atmosphere was electric.
He sits down next to his manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason) and his trainer/cut man, Army (Mickey Rooney). Years together on the road had made them friends. Army starts to wrap his wrists. Mountain is excited “I feel good about this fight.“. Maish looks on. Something heavy on his mind. “Be careful out there, right!” “Don’t take any chances.“
“Look Mountain he maybe an up and coming whippersnapper but be careful! He’s real slick. He’s fast. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.“
Mountain asks what the fighter’s name was again. His manager looks directly at him. “Come on Mountain I know you’ve been hit a few too many times but you gotta remember who you fighting!” “Look your name is up there on the fight poster. Under his name..” “You see?” Maish points to the poster taped with plasters to the back of the changing room door. In big capital letters we get to read the name………. CASSIUS CLAY!
Just at that moment the door opens “Come on then gents it’s time to go for the main event.” Army looks at Maish who’s gone quiet. He turns to the boxer, his friend. “Take it easy out there champ..“
The bell rings. BAAM!
The bright lights flash in his eyes. Stars flash. They seem to appear and vanish. His eyes seem to black out but he’s not blinking. They are kind of open. Each time we see from his point of vision. Blurred and confused. The roar of the crowd deafens. Each time his opened eyes focus he saw that athletic young black man dancing in front of him. Each blink followed pain as his opponent’s fists slammed deep into his face. Something popped, something wet dripped from his eye socket down his cheek. The bone in his nose snapped again, he almost liked it. Mountain was strangely still confident. The face rearranging events before him hadn’t caught up with him yet……… Then he went to sleep!
He was an oaf of man. Gentle and almost childlike at times. Then the rages and constant pain plagued. His face was mangled and gnarled. One ear flatten one side, fat and twisted up the other. Booze took away the pain. He drunk a lot.
He struggled with words, hard to express himself. Years of his brain bouncing around like a rubber ball hitting the side of skull and bone. He was a fighter, a good fighter. It was all he knew. He was a proud Mexican. From a family of fighters. The noise of the canvas, baiting crowds, screaming punching pain. Giving and taking hurt flowed through his pumping veins. What had he now become?
Now forced out of his way of life. Brain damage was a certainty if he carried on and his eye ball had nearly exploded. Any more hits to the head! POP! Blindness, even death! He was made to retire. Washed up! He wanted to fight on. It’s all he knew. It didn’t sink in. His mind couldn’t visualize why. Drink will help. Another and another. Takes the pain away. Think about it tomorrow.
This is the story of fighter. A boxer who was never really gonna get to the big starlight. Never to hold his champion belt high above his head. He was more a human punchbag. He was no pushover. A test to any prized fighter who would be placed in the ring with him. He’d punch, punch hard. Unfortunately over sized gloves would always rain down on his head. He’d stay the distance. Each time knocking pieces of bone out of his face. Twisting cheeks, tearing eyebrows and busting blood and guts out of his face and body. His mashed up goofy face half smiles. But now what was he gonna do? He says to himself, to anyone that will listen……
“Mountain Rivera was no punk. Mountain Rivera was almost the Heavyweight Champion of the World!“
Mountain’s new life journey is about to start in Requiem for a Heavyweight. It’s a deep meaningful story that will brings together friendship, despair, love and dating. Alcoholism, reality checks, betrayal and loyalty.
Tagline – They beat him… they broke him… they betrayed him… but they could not crush the towering dignity of a real fighter!
The film will smash your emotions in a similar way to Cassius Clay’s pounding hammer like fists into the Mountains face. Though for us, the viewer, it will be a sucker punch to the gut…………….
Things I’ve learnt…….
- Requiem for a Heavyweight started out as a teleplay play in 1956 for a television show called Playhouse 90.
- It was written by Rod Serling who would go on to be immortalised in The Twilight Zone series.
- The movie is directed by Ralph Nelson who worked with Sidney Poitier on a number of occasions in the films Lilies of the Field (1963) Duel At Diablo (1966) and The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
- The original play featured Jack Palance in the Mountain role. Keenan Wynn as Maish and Keenan’s Dad Ed Wynn as the cut-man Army.
- The caring heart, love interest is Grace played by Kim Hunter in the play and Julie Harris in the film.
- There have been many play version’s covered in different countries with a BBC one for Sunday Night Theater that starred Sean Connery, George Margo, Warren Mitchell and Jacqueline Hill.
Requiem for a Heavyweight is expertly written and a perfectly played out drama. The opening scene that starts within the boxing ring can only be described with the cliche words of “It’s a knockout!“. You feel the raw power of that scene. The moment you see his reflection in the mirror, you understand. The way his instinct, grit and determination to get his unaware broken self back in the ring, again you understand. A proud man. Now lost to all he knows.
There’s many little scenes that touch with emotion. The first date bar drinks scene between Anthony Quinn and Julie Harris is wonderfully sweet and awkward at the same time. It feels real. You can see the danger and uncontrollable frustration from the boxer but also the warmth and inquisitive nature of his female companion. There’s also the look of friendship from Mickey Rooney showing his frustration to not be able to truly help. Plus the way deep regret from Jackie Gleason‘s ultimate betrayal is revealed from the get go but never feels forced. We watch as the film opens and plays out right up to it’s aftermath. All four actors are first class. Watch out for the lift hotel scene, the words on the stairs and the bedroom conversation to name few. Requiem for a Heavyweight cuts deep but I will, if you don’t mind, take the pressure off with its end. It’s not as damn dark as I was sitting there dreading. BUT….. it will surely break you.
It’s a brilliantly film. If you’ve seen it let me know, if you go watch it, pop back and tell me. And have you seen any of the play versions? How do they compare in story?
Many thanks for popping in and having a read. All the best. Mikey Wolf