"Boxing," Eddie Muller affirmed, "is noir." In the early 1930s between the demise of Jack Dempsey as heavyweight champion of the world and the ascension of Joe Louis as heavyweight champion of the world, a couple of enterprising gangsters on the East Coast—Paul John ("Frankie") Carbo and Frank ("Blinky") Palermo ("I'm not making these names up," Muller assured us)—attempted to take control of all the boxing rings by basically determining who would and would not fight for the championship fights that were being held in the greater New York area. Their great contribution to boxing was the creation of heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, a circus strongman that Carbo and Palermo had their hooks into who they basically led by a leash to the heavyweight championship of the world. Mark Robson's The Harder They Fall is the fictionalized account of the Primo Carnera scandal.
In keeping with the theme of this year's festival—newspaper noir—The Harder They Fall was written by former newspaper man Budd Schulberg, a great reporter and sports writer who went on to become an equally great Hollywood screenwriter. Schulberg is perhaps best known for writing the screenplay for On the Waterfront. Unfortunately, he is also known for being a fink during the Communist witch hunts. Be that as it may, Schulberg's novel The Harder They Fall was his "black valentine to the sweet science" of boxing, expressing his love/hate for the sport (with which Muller identifies). Having had a similarly conflicted reaction to the sport his entire life due to his father's profession as a sports writer for the San Francisco Examiner, Muller was brought up around boxing, which he sources as the origin of his love for noir. Acknowledging that screening The Harder They Fall was an admitted homage to his father ("This one's for my old man"), Muller likewise advised that it is the first boxing movie ever shown at Noir City, along with being Humphrey Bogart's last film. As a bit of movie trivia, Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless looks at the movie poster of The Harder They Fall and sighs, "Ah, Bogie…."
The film features appearances by actual boxers such as Jersey Joe Walcott and Max Baer, former Heavyweight Champion of the World, who plays Toro Moreno's nemesis. Baer was also the individual who exposed Primo Carnera as a fraud.
Cross-published on Twitch.