Musings & Meditations

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Posted in Movies by Pam Keesey on September 13, 2008

After years of saying, “Oh, I want to see that,” I finally got around to watching “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Based on a teleplay by Rod Serling for Playhouse 90, the film is also scripted by Serling. The film is striking in many ways, not the least of which is its authenticity. Serling, a boxer himself at one time, knew of which he wrote, and many of his stories and teleplays were based on his experience.

From the very first moments, Requiem for a Heavyweight captures the attention. Filmed from Louis “The Mountain” Rivera’s point of view, the camera caputres the onslaught of a very young, very vivacious Cassius Clay  (and for those who don’t already know, this is the man who would become Muhammed Ali).

Brutal not only in its depiction of the physicality of boxing, Requiem for a Heavyweight also — and probably most importantly — is particularly stark when it comes to what happens behind the scenes. “Punch drunk,” as they call it, Rivera has reached the end of his career. “Almost the heavyweight champion of the world,” Rivera is battle scarred: his face is ravaged, his speech slurred, and he’s on the verge of losing his vision. His manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), is a gambler faced with a substantial debt to the mob. His trainer, Army (Mickey Rooney), is a small fish in a big pond, devoted to Rivera, and unable to move on. Rivera, advised not to fight anymore, goes to an employment agency where he meets Grace Miller (Julie Harris), a woman who comes to Rivera’s aid in the hopes of finding him a job outside the ring.

Anthony Quinn is particularly striking as the Mountain himself, a big man who’s not only lost the bout, but lost his sense of self and his sense of place in the universe. And the resonance — not only the young Muhammed Ali in a film about a fighter who’s lost everything for having been hit in the head too many times, but also in the profile of the kind of man who is likely to turn to boxing in the hopes of making something of himself — is profound.

Requiem for a Heavyweight is one of the better films I’ve seen in a very long time.

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