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Requiem for a Heavyweight

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Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris
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Requiem for a Heavyweight  (1962) starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris

  Requiem for a Heavyweight is a very powerful, very hard-hitting movie about boxing.   Rod Serling wrote a teleplay that shows the steamy underbelly of professional boxing — and it’s not a pretty picture.   In short,  Rocky it isn’t.   The movie begins with Anthony Quinn, the ‘Heavyweight’ of the title, losing his final boxing match to (a very young) Cassius Clay.    Anthony Quinn’s character, Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera, has become punch-drunk and is on the verge of losing his eyesight in the boxing ring.   His corrupt manager (played extremely well by  Jackie Gleason, in a very serious role) needs to find a way to pay back the mob  … and if that means ruining Rivera’s chance at happiness, then so be it.  

Jackie Gleason in Requiem for a Heavyweight

Jackie Gleason plays not a one-dimensional character, who would be easy for the audience to hate; instead, he plays a man who has been slowly dragged down and feels that he’s being forced to do things that he doesn’t really want to do.   The audience pities him.    Mickey Rooney, however, is the person that the audience roots for, the only man who’s trying to help Rivera — as is Julie Harris’ character, trying to help him find a way for Rivera to find a life outside of life in the ring — even after being truly frightened by a ‘flashback’ while at a restaurant.

Anthony Quinn and Mickey Rooney in Requiem for a Heavyweight

The movie is not a lighthearted, feel-good type of movie.   It is sad, and becomes much more so at the bittersweet ending, as Rivera gives up his last shred of dignity to save his former friend from the mob.   I normally don’t like heavy movies, but I’m willing to make an exception here.   It’s an incredible performance by all involved, and well worth watching.   It’s highly recommended.

Editorial Review of  Requiem for a Heavyweight  starring Anthony Quinn,  Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris — courtesy of

Anthony Quinn and Julie Harris in Requiem for a Heavyweight

This feature version of  Rod Serling’s memorable teleplay, theatrically released in 1962, was previously produced in 1956 for live television. The grim tale stars  Anthony Quinn as a brain-damaged fighter suffering from too many years in the ring yet pushed into another and yet another punishing round by his corrupt manager (Jackie Gleason). Yearning for a life of his own, Quinn’s burned-out hitter falls for a  shy social worker (Julie Harris),  while Gleason’s small-timer tries fending off the pressures of truly bad guys who want the money he owes them.

Directed by Ralph Nelson (who also made the TV version), this Requiem opens up into a powerful piece of social realism with the undercurrent of a cautionary fable. The characters are almost archetypal, the story never stops moving, the acting is superb (Mickey Rooney is very good as Quinn’s reluctant trainer), and the ending is nightmarishly apt. — Tom Keogh

Synopsis for  Requiem for a Heavyweight, starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris

Mountain Rivera is at the end of his boxing career after a knockout by Cassius Clay in the seventh round. His left eye is one punch from permanent trauma, his ears turned to cauliflower, his speech slurred from “being hit a million times”, and he slings punches anytime he hears a bell, but his trainer and ‘cutman’ Army, and Miss Miller, a manipulative social worker, support his illusion that he could be a movie usher, a camp counselor, or a romantic partner for Miller.

But his manager Maish Rennick, knowing the truth, can’t admit that he’s bet everything he had that Rivera wouldn’t go four rounds against Clay. Maish will pay with his life when the goon squad comes to collect if he can’t persuade Rivera to abandon his pride (“I fought 111 fights and never took a dive”) and agree to a wrestling contract of which he’s ashamed. When Maish blurts out his secret, Rivera realizes that walking out on the deal is not an option. To save the neck of the man who’s betrayed him, he embraces the humiliating role of wrestling as ‘Big Chief Mountain Rivera,’ and the illusion of camaraderie among the three men is gone forever.

Movie quotes from  Requiem for a Heavyweight

Louis ‘Mountain’ RiveraAnthony Quinn): Mountain Rivera was no punk. Mountain Rivera was almost the Heavyweight Champion of the World!

Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera (Anthony Quinn): In 1952 they ranked me number five!

Army (Andy Rooney): [to Maish (Jackie Gleason)] Anybody ever tell you what a prince of a guy you were?

[after Grace slaps Maish]
Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason): Do you really want to help him? Here’s how you can help him. Leave him alone. If you gotta’ say anything to him, tell him you pity him. Tell him you feel so sorry for him you could cry. But don’t con him. Don’t tell him he could be a counselor at a boys’ camp. He’s been chasing ghosts so long he’ll believe anything. Any kind of a ghost. Championship belt, pretty girl … maybe just 24 hours without an ache in his body. Doesn’t make any difference. It all passed him.
Grace Miller (Julie Harris): I just thought that — maybe the next thing he wanted he ought to get. [starts to weep] That would only be fair. I wished to God it was something I could’ve given him.

Army (Andy Rooney): [to Maish (Jackie Gleason)] You fink. You dirty, stinking fink.

[Alternate ending: A young boxer, with his manager, presents himself to Maish, as ‘Mountain’ Rivera heads into the wrestling ring]
Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason): You wanna fight. You fool. You damn stupid fool. Don’t you understand? Can’t you get it into your silly head? There are only eight champions in this business. Everybody else is an also-ran. The good’s great, but the bad stinks! Don’t you understand? The odds are all you’ll wind up a mumbling idiot! A STUTTERING JERK! WHY DON’T YOU GO HOME! GO HOME!

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