Tuesday, November 15, 2011


 ~ By Paul Bishop


Boxing and noir go together as smoothly as a one-two combination punch. The inherent qualities of both noir and boxing, desperation, bad choices, violence, tension, humanity stripped bare, combine for a marriage made in Hell.

We’re not talking the Rockys of the boxing world here. We’re not talking the life affirming, if you punch hard enough, sooner or later you’re gonna be a contender, kind of boxing stories. We’re talking about the down and dirty, punch drunk, cauliflower-eared, in bed with the mob, no hope fighters who populate such novels as Fat City (Leonard Gardner), Ringside Jezebel (Kate Nickerson), The Leather Pushers (H. C. Witwer), The Bruiser (Jim Tully), or Iron Man (W. R. Burnett).

There’s always the classic femme fatale involved in these tales – usually a high class socialite who gets her slumming hooks into the blue collar fighter and plays him for a sap. She’s usually responsible for pitting the palooka against the mob – you know, the bent-nosed guys looking to take over the fight racket by making the hero take a dive in the 4th round.

The low end of boxing has long fascinated writers. The late Budd Schulberg, author of the novel and screenplay On the Waterfront (the classic shoulda-woulda-coulda been a contender tale), also wrote The Harder They Fall – a celebrated novel of the prize ring, which has lost none of its power since its first publication almost fifty years ago.

Made into a 1956 noir film, The Harder They Fall starred Humphrey Bogart in his last role as a destitute sports writer involved with mobster Rod Steiger. Bogart puts a punch drunk boxer in harm’s way believing he can convince him to throw a fight, but when the boxer decides against the dive, Bogart finds himself complicit in the boxer’s avoidable death.

Trying to convince the boxer, Toro, to throw the fight, Bogart’s dialogue brings not only the sport, but the fight fans into disrepute – “What do you care what a bunch of bloodthirsty, screaming people think of you? Did you ever get a look at their faces? They pay a few lousy bucks hoping to see a man get killed. To hell with them! Think of yourself. Get your money and get out of this rotten business.”

A more recent example of film noir’s take on boxing would be 2008’s The Tender Hook. Set in 1930′s Sidney, Australia, the traditional mob boss’ girlfriend falls for a boxer and starts a steamy affair that ends in bloodshed. The film stars Hugo Weaving as McHeath – the seedy mobster/boxing promoter – and Rose Byrne as McHeath’s girlfriend – the requisite femme fatale – who falls for McHeath’s new boxer played by Matthew Le Nevez. The story is standard fare but its stellar cast really brings it to life.

The best of all boxing noir films, however, is 1949’s The Set-Up starring Robert Ryan as over-the-hill boxer Bill 'Stoker' Thompson, whoinsists he can still win. Despite the pleas of his sexy wife Julie to quit, Stoker agrees to a bout with mob-backed fighter Tiger Nelson. Stoker’s manager, Tiny, is so confident Stoker will lose, he takes money from Little Boy, the tough mobster behind Tiger, to guarantee Stoker will take a dive. The problem is, Tiny doesn’t tell Stoker about this arrangement.

Directed by Robert Wise, The Set-Up is brilliantly told in real time. The tension builds as Stoker stalks Tiger Nelson across the ring, determined to win, yet unaware of the tragic fate awaiting him if he does.

At the start of the fourth round of the vicious match with the much younger and heavily-favored Tiger, Stoker learns about the fix, but refuses to give up.

Director Wise makes the most of every sweat-flecked second of celluoid. The fight scenes are filled with close-ups of faces burning with fear, bloodlust, and desperation – turning the screws of this tension filled gem. 

These films and many others
 show boxing and noir were
 made for each other.

 So, fire up the DVR, put up your dukes, 
and settle in for a night of
 fisticuffs, palookas and noir . . . 

and watch out for that bad left hook. 

© 2011 ~ Author PAUL BISHOP
Back in the ring ~ AT THE BIJOU
PHOTOS ~ Films courtesy BISH'S BEAT / Gloves - generationbass.com
 Velasquez and Soldiers at Olympic trials - familyMWR photo / FELONY FISTS cover by Keith Birdsong 

Honoured am I to call Bish an admired pal AT THE BIJOU. A novelist and screenwriter, Paul Bishop also has a distinguished career with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he has twice been honored as Detective Of The Year. With over thirty years experience investigating sex crimes, Paul brings a gritty realism to his writing along with a healthy dollop of hard earned gallows humor. 
(Why, I hang on his every word.)


But there's more! As a nationally recognized interrogator, Paul created and appeared regularly as one of two principal interrogators on the hit ABC reality series Take The Money And Run . . . 

{Click Link for AT THE BIJOU TTM&R sensation on Bish}

Paul Bishop’s latest novel, FELONY FISTS, is part of his FIGHT CARD series written under the pseudonym Jack Tunney

Other novels under his own name include Hot Pursuit, Deep Water, Penalty Shot, and five novels in his Detective Fey Croaker LAPD series.

Kid Kate -- Tell 'em more, tell 'em more about me and Bish!

 Absolutely*Kate:   I ain't arguing with you, Smokin' Joe. I'll tell the world that you're his Hero.
 Joe Frazier:   “Life doesn't run away from nobody. Life runs at people.”
 Kid*Kate:   OK serious ToughGuy, I'll tell the folks that Bish runs every day, 5 or 7 miles, and he thinks with a clear head on that run, and that thinking brings together good authors to champion . . . and in our next show, he'll tell the folks about Mel Odom and AT THE BIJOU heavy-hitters, Eric BeetnerAnthony Venutolo and Robert J Randisi.
 Smokin' Joe:   Them those Fight Card boys? 

 Kid*Kate:   The very same, Joe, the very same. You're gonna like what they have to say about the fight game.
Smokin' Joe:     “Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.”
 Kid*Kate:   Rest in peace Joe. We was always rootin' for ya. And Bish's boys and some worthy contenders will show you how well their fighting words dance in the ring . . . all this week, as NOVEMBER goes NOIR, AT THE BIJOU.

Thanks Paul, Thanks Joe!
You fellers make for one swell BIJOU show

~ Absolutely*Kate
and our swanky staff of renown

"Where Writers' Raves are Readers' Faves"




               Every other day that's November (and then some) 

Eric Beetner ... Anthony Venutolo ... Nigel Bird ... Matt Hilton ... Ian Ayris ... Paul Brazill ...  Steven Miscandlon ... Jeanette Cheezum ... BR Stateham ... Julian Bramwell Slater ... Sal Buttaci ...  Kevin J Mackey ... Helen Howell ... Luca Veste ... Christina Vincent ... Charlie Wade ... Darren Sant ... Aidan Fritz ... Lily Childs ... a Rex Pickett surprise ... AT THE BIJOU'S Harry B Sanderford ... Matthew Magda ...  potentially Zelda Miller ... plus return appearances by MCs, Kevin MadDog Michaels and Absolutely*Kate ... (Who knows who's getting into the act? . . . RAYMOND CHANDLER may be channeled)

Be there

or be square Bub.

Talkin to you too, Toots. 


Paul D Brazill said...

Excellent pice. I'm a big fan of The Harder They Fall but have, for shame, never seen The Set Up. Will rectify that.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

I'm a big fan of the Thrill of Brazill. The handy link to the Paul to Paul Interview is just up above there.

~ Stage Manager with aplomb

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

That was great. Have not seen any of the films, but am surely familiar with the themes / storylines. Like Paul D B, said, I will certainly be rectifying my lack of seeing the films.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the boxer, Toro, in The Harder They fall was based on Primo Carnera. I've seen 'em all and they're all great. The one, for me though, is Rod Serlings, Requiem For A Heavyweight. I'm talking the TV 90 minute version not the movie version. Jack Palance wasMountain and Jackie Gleason was, exactly, Maish. If you've seen that version you'll never forget the scene in the unemployment office when the counselor asks Mountain what he would like to be and the punch drunk, washed up boxer says: "Me? I'd like to be Heavyweight Champion Of The World, ma'am. Can you do that for me?" Palance delivers that line like a kidney punch, make your eyes water all these years later.

Kevin Michaels said...

Great piece - right from that opening line ("boxing and noir go together as smoothly as a one-two combination punch). Think you totally nailed what makes the combo so potent.... desperation ... bent-nosed guys...slumming hooks. Have to add the stories of FX Toole (Rope Burns was adapted into Million Dollar baby) and Rod Serling's Requiem For A Heavyweight.
Excellent read, Bish!

Blaze McRob said...

This is a great piece! I especially loved the Bogey annotation. Until a bullet to the head stopped my boxing career, I indulged in and loved the sport. The noir inherent within the boxing, women, gambling and seamier parts of life play so well together. Thanks for sharing this with us.


Harry said...

Loved your piece Paul! I am glad to hear of the Aussie flick, "The Tender Hook" Rockie has stood too long as the go to boxing film when referring to films of late. I love boxing as the setting for a story and will also be looking up, "The Setup"

Nice Joe Frasier interview too A*K!

Nigel Bird said...

Knockout post, indeed. Fat City and Waterfront are brilliant examples and that Smokin' Joe quote is top notch.

I'll be looking out for Requiem For A Heavyweight (thanks AJ).

Just to mention that One Too Many Blows To The Head is still in my top 5 reads of the year and it's not going to leave that ring, I can tell you.

Thanks Bish.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Bish! You're da man!

Helen A. Howell said...

I haven't seen any of the films either, but I really enjoyed reading your take on them. I may even now watch a couple, I love noir, maybe I could learn to love boxing too ;)


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah. Loved "Take The Money and Run." A very interesting premise that kept developing as it went. Very revealing of human nature.

Anonymous said...

Quite specatcular. Bamboozled and polooka'd. Katey this was a grand show of talent.

Jeanette cheezum