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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"What else am I supposed to know how to do except fight?"
DVD ReviewRod Serling is best remembered today as host of Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, but he made his mark originally as a scriptwriter for Playhouse 90, one of the most important programs during the Golden Age of Television. The 1957 production Requiem for a Heavyweight on Serling's script was a powerful and epochal achievement in television drama. A few years later, Serling's script was made into a feature film and, despite the translation of forms, it still is a powerful piece of work.
Luis "Mountain" Rivera (Anthony Quinn) is a punch-drunk heavyweight boxer who is in danger of blindness or death if he fights again. Despairing, he tries to find work and has little success until he meets Grace Miller, a sympathetic employment counselor (Julie Harris). Rivera's manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), has his own plans: owing a fortune to the mob, Maish tries to convince Mountain to take up the degrading world of professional wrestling. Miller and Rivera's trainer, Army (Mickey Rooney), try to convince Mountain otherwise, but his devotion to Maish drives him to make himself a laughingstock in the ring.
The story is powerful and well-written, with tons of authentic-sounding boxing talk. As good as it is, the picture is really made by the first-rate performances of the starring quartet. Gleason in particular gives a powerful performance as a man who, trying to save himself, sells out his friend, and plays it for all it's worth. Quinn is terrific and highly believable as the slightly loopy and completely unskilled Rivera. Harris makes a good mirror for the unwilling Rivera and manages to convey a deepening affection for him in a plausible manner. Rooney's performance is pretty much one-note, but given his history of light comedy roles, it's all the more effective for being dead serious.
The direction is notable as well. The opening sequence of Rivera in the ring with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) is stunning. The POV camera gives us the sensation of being pummeled senseless by the Great One, which in retrospect was a truly fortuitous piece of casting. The same POV shot is repeated at the end in the wrestling ring, to much different effect as the crowds jeer and laugh at Rivera. Another memorable sequence finds Gleason pursued by the mob in the arena until he is finally trapped in the ring itself. Set against a dark jazz score, with stunning visuals, the sequence is a terrific setpiece.
The supporting cast is worth commenting upon. Intriguingly, the mobster is a woman, Ma Greeny (Madame Spivey). But she drips evil and venom in every scene where she's present, while a lackey carries her pet as if she were a Blofeld archetype.
One of the great dramas of the mid-20th century, Requiem is worth watching on any number of counts. It successfully makes the transition to the big screen and takes advantage of the opening up of the tableau without being too flashy or self-conscious.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture looks terrific overall. There is beautiful black & white photography and the transfer has an immense range of greys and deep rich blacks with plenty of shadow detail. Fine detail is present, with textures readily visible throughout. There is some minor ringing in a few sequences, but nothing major or distracting. The source print contains some mild occasional speckling, but otherwise it looks great. The full frame version of the film is open matte, with significant opening up of the top and bottom of the screen. For the most part, the compositions work pretty well either way.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track sounds very good. There is no hiss, dialogue is always clear and for the most part there's no distortion. Some of the Foley effects, such as telephones ringing, sound a shade muddy, but that seems to be a fault of the original sound. Deep bass is lacking, as is to be expected, but it's certainly serviceable for the period.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Greatest, Barabbas
Extras Review: The extras are scant. There is a 1.85:1 anamorphic trailer for the Ali biopic The Greatest, starring the man himself. A 'scope nonanamorphic trailer for Barabbas, also starring Quinn, is the companion piece. Beyond that, there's nothing. The usual 28 Columbia chapters are quite generous for a picture of this length.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsA moving and harsh look at the decline and fall of a boxer, given a gorgeous transfer. Extras are nearly nonexistent, but still definitely worth seeking out.
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