This is a very interesting and historically significant film for a number of reasons.
In the opening scene we see Muhammad Ali (Still Cassius Clay at the time) in a boxing match with Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn) in a bout so one sided it forces Rivera to retire. Facing retirement now, Rivera finds that he has few marketable skills and that his only option may be to begin a career in the, to him, detestable “rigged” world of professional wrestling.
Wrestling fans be forewarned here, the world of pro grappling here is portrayed as a seedy, sleazy underbelly that is chiefly the home of “last resort” down on their luck ex-fighters, and circus freak show acts, which as a wrestling fan myself, I have to admit from time to time that is in fact an accurate description.
Jackie Gleason plays the sleaze in this movie, and does so wonderfully, while Mickey Rooney plays his polar opposite, and his basically the conscience of the film. Quinn is a tour de’ force. From what I have read there were two made for TV versions of this film produced before this movie, one I was able to watch, and that is actually quite good starring Jack Palance, and another British version I have not been able to find starring a pre-James Bond Sean Connery.
While both of those men are fine actors, neither of them in my opinion, especially Connery considering his age, could match the rugged beat down old dog look that Anthony Quinn manages here as the washed up old boxer turned wrestler known as Mountain.
Where Palance came off as a rugged and bruised movie star, Quinn looked like a beat up old fighter, slurred words and all. The writing and pacing is top notch thanks in part to the great screenplay by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.
All in all this was a very interesting and gritty movie that I was happy to have been able to see.
Requiem for a Heavyweight gets a four out of five: GREAT.