Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1956. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the autobiography of Rocky Graziano with Rowland Barber. Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Produced by Charles Schnee. Music by Bronislau Kaper. Production Design by Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons. Film Editing by Albert Akst. Academy Awards 1956.
Scintillating biography of Rocky Graziano, a prizefighter who grow up in the rough neighbourhoods of New York City a complete juvenile delinquent and ended up a heroically admired boxer. As a teenager, Graziano (Paul Newman) constantly finds himself being thrown in and out of jail, the bane of his miserable mother’s existence, even receiving a dishonorable discharge from the army for his wanton ways until he discovers the boxing ring and finds a place where he truly belongs. The experience leads him to a more mature personality thanks to ambition and responsibility, opening up the way for romance with Pier Angeli and, subsequently, a happy marriage. Considering that Graziano was a contemporary of Jake LaMotta’s, the subject of Martin Scorsese’s 1980 Raging Bull, it’s quite obvious that the story has been cleaned up for the audiences of 1956, but that doesn’t stop it from being compelling entertainment. Newman (in a role meant for James Dean before his death) is awkwardly cast in the lead role, not fully believable as a badmouthed, rough-mannered Italian and giving a performance that is all about his curled, Method-acting upper lip, but he still manages some powerful moments well before far more impressive turns in movies like Hud and Cool Hand Luke. Ernest Lehman’s intelligent screenplay makes plenty out of the opportunity to describe the limited opportunities for the lower classes in America, while Joseph Ruttenberg’s positively stunning cinematography (which deserved its Oscar win if ever a film did) makes great use of deep shadows and smoky light effects to show the seedy world that this highly captivating character came from. Entertainment of the highest order.