Requiem for a Heavyweight was a teleplay written by Rod Serling and produced for the live television show Playhouse 90 on 11 October 1956. Six years later, it was adapted as a 1962 feature film starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney.
The teleplay won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script, and helped establish Serling's reputation. The broadcast was directed by Ralph Nelson and is generally considered one of the finest examples of live television drama in the United States, as well as being Serling's personal favorite of his own work. Nelson and Serling won Emmy Awards for their work.
Jack Palance portrays Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, a once-promising but now washed-up boxer who faces the end of his career after he is savagely defeated by a younger boxer. Keenan Wynn portrays McClintock's manager Maish; Keenan's father Ed plays McClintock's cut man, Army.
McClintock is suffering from Dementia pugilistica or "punch drunk syndrome"—brain damage caused by his career. A fight doctor refuses to certify McClintock for further boxing, saying that another rough match could blind or even kill him. Boxing is all McClintock has ever known, and he's both terrified of trying something new, and intensely loyal to Maish, who has nurtured him from his youth. Maish has troubles of his own, however: he owes money to the Mafia and tried to raise funds by betting that McClintock would be knocked out early (instead, by gamely and bravely taking a beating and refusing to go down, McClintock cost Maish a fortune).
Kim Hunter portrayed Grace Carney, an employment agency worker who tries to help the boxer make a transition to a new career. Maish persuades the boxer to turn to professional wrestling, though McClintock is proud that he never had a fixed fight and is uncomfortable with the staged, predetermined wrestling match.
Army disapproves of Maish's plans and refuses to be a part of them. Just before he is scheduled to go into the wrestling ring in a humiliating mountain man costume, McClintock learns of Maish's betting against him, and parts ways with his manager and mentor. Though he feels that boxing can ruin men's lives, Maish finds another promising young boxer to train. McClintock takes a chance on working with children at summer camp.
Because Serling and Palance were both experienced boxers, they brought a level of authenticity to Requiem for a Heavyweight, although there was very little boxing depicted in the broadcast. Requiem for a Heavyweight was the beginning of what became one of the new medium's most successful creative teams, writer Rod Serling and director Ralph Nelson.
BBC Television in the United Kingdom screened a version of the play, retitled Blood Money, in their regular Sunday Night Theatre anthology strand on March 31, 1957. Sean Connery, five years before portraying James Bond, starred as McClintock, while Alvin Rakoff produced and, with Serling's approval, also wrote some new material to cover costume changes that took place during commercial breaks on US television, but could not do so on the non-commercial BBC. Co-starring with Connery were Warren Mitchell and Rakoff's future wife Jacqueline Hill, who had recommended Connery for the leading part. Michael Caine was featured in a small role in a new scene written by Rakoff.
This production was reviewed in The Times newspaper the following day, which gave it a generally positive assessment, with some reservations. "It is unfortunate that Mr. Serling has allowed a saccharine romance to intrude into this self-sufficient and wholly masculine situation. Otherwise his touch is sure. Although physically miscast as the fighter, Mr. Sean Connery played with a shambling and inarticulate charm that almost made the love affair credible." This version has not survived, although the discovery of a complete recording of the soundtrack was announced in 2014. It had been in possession of Rakoff, who had made a recording at the time of transmission for posterity.
In 1959 Dutch television adapted the story as Requiem voor een zwaargewicht.
In 1974 Radio Television Belgrade adapted the story as Rekvijem za teškaša.
|Requiem for a Heavyweight|
|Directed by||Ralph Nelson|
|Produced by||David Susskind|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Cinematography||Arthur J. Ornitz|
|Edited by||Carl Lerner|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
Ralph Nelson also directed a movie version in 1962 with Anthony Quinn in the role originated by Jack Palance, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney in the parts portrayed on television by Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn, and social worker Grace Miller was portrayed by Julie Harris.
Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, appears as Quinn's opponent in a boxing match at the beginning of the movie, a memorable sequence filmed with the camera providing Quinn's point of view as the unstoppable Clay rapidly punches directly at the movie audience. Afterward, Maish is confronted by bookies who threaten his life if he fails to repay the bet he just lost on the fight.
The film version is somewhat darker in its plotline than the original teleplay. Mountain Rivera (Quinn) is to interview for a counselor position at a children's camp, arranged by Grace Miller, but Maish takes him to a bar where they both get drunk, hoping that Mountain will forget about the job interview. Army (Rooney) arrives at the bar to remind Mountain about the appointment, but he embarrasses himself at the hotel where the interview is to take place, behaving drunkenly in plain sight of the camp owners. Grace follows Mountain home to try to understand what went wrong, and though they are attracted to each other, Mountain's aggression scares Grace off. She confronts Maish in tears, condemning him for controlling Mountain and ruining his chance to make a new life for himself.
To pay off Maish's gambling debts, Mountain agrees to perform as Native American wrestling persona "Big Chief Mountain Rivera." Just prior to entering the ring for his first match, an overwhelming tide of humiliation sweeps over Mountain, causing him to change his mind. Maish blurts out that he bet against Mountain in the fight against Clay, and as Rivera attempts to leave the locker room, "Ma" Greeny and her thugs enter, threatening Maish. However, Mountain changes his mind and agrees to wrestle, thereby allowing "Ma" to be paid and saving Maish's life. In the epic final scene of the film, Mountain enters the ring amidst jeering ridicule to face "Haystack Calhoun," a grappler from Arkansas billed at 601 lbs.
In 1960, Ralph Nelson wrote and directed The Man in the Funny Suit, a dramatic account of Keenan Wynn's travails in helping his father, comedian Ed Wynn, play such a serious role on live television in Requiem for a Heavyweight. Ed Wynn went on to play equally serious roles in The Great Man and the 1959 film version of The Diary of Anne Frank. The Man in the Funny Suit was telecast as an installment of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse with Rod Serling and Red Skelton playing themselves, and it remains available for public viewing at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.