PRWeek film of the week: ‘The Harder They Fall’

It’s not a new movie, dating from 1956, but anyone who hasn’t seen Humphrey Bogart’s final feature film, ‘The Harder They Fall,’ and who...

It’s not a new movie, dating from 1956, but anyone who hasn’t seen Humphrey Bogart’s final feature film, ‘The Harder They Fall,’ and who is interested in the eternal ethical question for PR professionals of representing a group or individual he or she has a nagging feeling just isn’t right, should find it interesting.

Bogart plays a sports columnist in New York City who needs work after his newspaper shuts down and decides to cash in his stellar reputation as a journalist in exchange for lucrative PR work. Accepting a job from the crookedest boxing promoter in town – played by Rod Steiger in a role similar to the mob boss Steiger played in ‘On the Waterfront’ – Bogart’s character plots a cross-country promotional tour of Toro Moreno, an Argentine who’s big and strong but doesn’t know how to box and can’t take a punch.

All the fights are fixed by Steiger and his thugs, of course -- though Toro himself doesn’t realize it -- with the ultimate aim of lining up a big payday in Madison Square Garden against the world champ, played by real-life boxer Max Bauer. Running as a kind of undercurrent throughout the film is the question asked by Bogart’s wife and his former colleagues of “why?” Why did he go into PR? Why does he help perpetrate this fraud on the public paying to see these fights, and why does he acquiesce in the exploitation of Toro and the fighters paid to take dives?

For the money, he says, as do all the fighters involved in the scam. Though the film, which is based on a novel by Budd Schulberg, is a clear indictment of the sport of boxing, its focus on the sportswriter-turned-publicist makes it essentially a study of one man’s moral quandary and, more generally, the relationship between publicists and journalists.

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