Humphrey Bogart, Primo Carnera, and The Harder They Fall
The final film of Humphrey Bogart’s career was The Harder They Fall (1956). In this saga of the seedy side of the boxing world, Bogart is Eddie Willis, an unemployed sportswriter who is hired as a press agent by an unscrupulous promoter, Nick Benko (the great Rod Steiger). Willis’s primary job is to foster publicity for Benko’s latest acquisition, a huge South American fighter, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), but Willis soon discovers that Moreno is a “powder puff” in the ring. Despite his increasing qualms about the exploitation of the dim-witted boxer, Willis effectively guides him through a lengthy series of fixed fights to the heavyweight championship. Later, after learning that Moreno’s contract has secretly been sold, and unable to stomach the dirty business any longer, Willis gives Moreno the $26,000 he earned as his press agent and sends the young man back to his home in South America. Incensed by Willis’s disloyalty, Benko threatens his life, but the agent reveals his plan to write a series of articles exposing the racket, telling him, “You can’t scare me and you can’t buy me.”
Hailed by one critic as a “lively and stinging film,” The Harder They Fall was a hit at the box office, probably enhanced by the amount of publicity it received. In December 1955, Columbia Studios announced that because of “lack of cooperation from the International Boxing Commission,” it had been unable to gain permission to use any stadium in the country for filming, and was forced to combine two stages to make a boxing arena. The film garnered more press in May 1956, when former heavy weight boxing champion Primo Carnera filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the studio, claiming that the movie paralleled his “rise and fall in the ring” and that, as a result, he had been “subjected to ridicule” and “has lost the admiration, respect, and friendship of neighbors and business acquaintances.” In August of that year, the ex-fighter, who later became a wrestler and restauranteur, lost his case when Judge Stanley Mosk, of the Santa Monica Superior Court, ruled that “one who became a celebrity or public figure waived the right of privacy and did not regain it by changing his profession.”
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