A Movie A Day: Quint on SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956) Don’t worry ‘bout a ting!
Published at: Aug. 26, 2008, 4:08 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Ooooo… the gambler in me is getting restless. I’m in a fucking gorgeous room at the Venetian and itching to go down and play some poker, but I know me. I’ll be gone for the day and when I get in late tonight I won’t want to write this movie up, so here I am being a good boy and getting my work done before playtime.
Today’s movie is SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, following star Paul Newman and director Robert Wise over from yesterday’s obscure (NOT ON DVD… I cheated and recorded it off of TCM a while back) romantic drama UNTIL THEY SAIL.
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is a much more well known picture, widely regarded as the film that launced Newman to stardom for his portrayal of real life rags to riches boxer Rocky Graziano.
I see it. I see the gleam in Newman’s eye, the charisma… I see how this is a calling card. Newman throws himself into the role without a thought to looking ridiculous, going hellbent for leather with the accent and quirkiness of this man.
That said, I found Newman’s performance here reminded me a lot of his work in THE RACK a couple AMADs back, both released the same year. Newman swings for the bleachers, not settling for a base-hit, which means he strikes out a few times. But his character is just so damn likable and Newman’s so damn charming that you forgive the little bits that don’t work.
I have no idea if Sly took inspiration from this movie or from Graziano’s life. I haven’t fully explored the commentaries and extra features on my ROCKY DVD, so I might be stating the obvious, but this movie is definitely ROCKY’s father.
You have a likable, street kid who finds love in young, supportive brunette while going for the gold, the underdog going for the glory. Hell, Graziano wears the same hat Stallone wears in ROCKY, he’s got a cranky old manager and the way Newman carries himself is without a doubt a precursor to Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky in the first film.
In SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME we’re introduced to little Rocky Graziano as kid sparring with his drunk father. He doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t like it… his drunk father’s drunk friends watch them and egg them on, ultimately getting the kid a real punch to the face.
From here on out this kid hates his father and carries that anger into his teen years where he’s a real hooligan. He’s a thief, a brawler, can’t stand any authority figure with the exception of poor, suffering mother. No matter what Rocky does to reform, he just can’t help but fall back in with his gang, composed of Sal Mineo and mother-humpin’ Steve McQueen! Who wouldn’t want to fall into that group?
Anyway, he gets in some real trouble, ends up in jail where he learns to control his anger a little bit, but before he even steps out after his time served the local fuzz walk him over to the army recruitment office and he’s signed up to fight the Germans.
Well, with Rocky’s… well, rocky relationship with authority (read father) figures, he doesn’t do well and ends up AWOL after punching out a superior officer.
It’s while he’s hiding out he figures he can raise enough money to bribe his way out of the mess, but everyone is light so despite him wanting to emulate his dickhead daddy (a failed boxer) he steps into the ring to raise some dough.
And the man is a machine. He just wants to end the fights as quickly as possible, his arms spinning like Popeye sometimes, bludgeoning whatever poor bastard he’s put up against.
But we don’t ever really see him fight (in the ring that is) until the climactic match for the middleweight championship. Sure, we some sparring, but Rocky’s rise to fame and fortune isn’t about the action, but about his character, how it changes him… or moreover how his wife Norma (Pier Angeli) centers him. He has an outlet for his rage… in the ring. And now he has a reason, other than his mother, to stay straight.
The flick is really damn good and then we get to the final boxing match. By this time we’re so invested in Graziano, we’re so invested in what this means to his friends and family… if he loses this fight it literally could take away the only hope that his low-on-luck old gang have.
This is where Wise’s genius comes into play. If we had seen a lot of matches leading up to the final one, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. If the rest of the film hadn’t focused so heavily on character building then we wouldn’t be so invested.
Which gives us without a doubt one of the best boxing matches ever committed to celluloid.
That’s not to say the rest of the movie is without drama, but the drama is mostly inner-drama, Rocky working out his aggression, finding some common ground with his father and being tempted back to his petty criminal life when he’s at his worst. The offer of a fall, $100,000 in cash, is made… by a friend… at a time when he doesn’t trust his new friends and by this time you’re so invested in this dude that you don’t want to see him tempted at all. You don’t want to see him weigh the decision even, you want to see him clock the slimey dickhole straight in the kisser.
It’s a testament to the power of this film that I was so invested while watching and that, as I type this, the same emotions I felt then are resurfacing as I think back on it. Not to mention it’s keeping me from my beloved Hold ‘Em.
Final Thoughts: A must see. Not flawless, but the movie’s so goddamn good that it paints a pretty coat over the flaws and makes them invisible to the naked eye. Sure, you know it’s there, but out of sight, out of mind. My highest recommendation on this one… especially if you double feature it and watch ROCKY right after.