Monday, August 1, 2011

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Rocco Barbella was a scrappy street kid from Brooklyn who was never given a chance from the word go. With a drunken failed prizefighter father and a supportive yet frail mother, he was in and out of reformatories for most of his childhood. After being released from prison and drafted into the army, he went AWOL and stumbled upon a gym where he changed his name to Rocky Graziano and was able to channel his hate into boxing and, with the love of a young woman, became a world boxing champion. Robert Wise’s Somebody Up There Likes Me, a biopic on the early life of Rocky Graziano, was Paul Newman’s second role and was the film that introduced him as a top star. Replacing James Dean after his untimely death, Newman really delved into the role and delivered a high caliber performance that was really unlike the rest of his subsequent work, portraying Graziano as a headstrong tough guy. Supporting players Pier Angeli, as his sweet and loving wife and Everett Sloane, as his long suffering manager contribute fine work as well. The film was shot on New York City streets in beautifully stark black and white cinematography that won the Oscar. With Somebody Up There Likes Me, you can see the roots of great future boxing pictures, such as the buffoonlike likability of Graziano or the tenderness of his relationship with his girl evident in Rocky or the gritty black and white fight scenes which surely inspired Martin Scorsese when he made Raging Bull (he does commentary on the film’s DVD). Somebody Up There Likes Me is a fine sports biopic thanks to the Paul Newman’s amiability, the unexpected humor in Ernest Lehman’s script, and the fine direction of Robert Wise.