21 March 2004 | cariart
Fast-Paced, Excellent Wise/Newman Biopic...
After the critical and commercial fiasco of THE SILVER CHALICE, Paul Newman decided that the move to Hollywood had been a mistake, and returned to Broadway, to star in "The Desperate Hours" (later filmed with Humphrey Bogart in Newman's role). Warner Brothers, not amused by Newman's departure, tacked an additional two years onto his film contract, and brought the young actor back for a so-so war drama on loan to MGM, THE RACK. Then lightning struck!
Boxer/Entrepreneur Rocky Graziano's entertaining autobiography, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (ghosted by Rowland Barber) had been planned with James Dean in the lead, but the 24-year old star's untimely death, after completing GIANT, left the WB without a loan-out actor for the MGM production. The studio decided to use Newman, and at last the young actor had a role he could really "sink his teeth into".
Masterfully directed by the legendary Robert Wise, the fast-paced, gritty comedy/drama follows young Rocco Barbella (Newman), from his early gang days (with Sal Mineo in a small role, and young Steve McQueen and Robert Loggia, unbilled, as other gang members), resulting in a prison stint, finally released just in time to be inducted into the service! His quick temper and natural boxing skills catch the attention of an Army boxing coach, but the undisciplined Barbella decides to go AWOL, using boxing (under the name Rocky Graziano) to pick up quick cash. Eventually, Graziano/Barbella gets his life straightened out, aided by the love of a good woman (Pier Angeli, James Dean's real-life girlfriend, and Newman's costar in THE SILVER CHALICE), and a sympathetic manager (Everett Sloane, in another of his many masterful performances), and Rocky begins a long, hard drive to become a champion.
The role of Graziano would be a showcase for any actor, and the Method-trained Newman plays it with an explosive physicality and intensity that is occasionally too theatrical, but is still mesmerizing. His performance foreshadows, to some extent, Robert De Niro's Jake La Motta, in RAGING BULL, without the abusiveness and ultimately self-destructive qualities. Just as La Motta, even in defeat to Sugar Ray Robinson, would proclaim "I never went down!", Graziano would not allow himself to accept defeat gracefully, resulting in a constant physical pummeling that would leave his face so battered that he'd even frighten his child!
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME would influence a generation of young actors and film makers (including Sylvester Stallone, who would 'lift' characters and some story elements in his script for ROCKY). For Paul Newman, it opened doors, and although his next two projects would be a standard Warner Brothers musical biopic (THE HELEN MORGAN STORY) and soap opera (UNTIL THEY SAIL), MUCH better films would soon be on their way.
A new star had been born!