Harder They Fall, The (1956): Making of Bogart’s Final Film, Social-Conscience Sports Melodrama (Noir)

The Harder They Fall, Humphrey Bogart’s final film, was a social-conscience sport melodrama, with touches of film noir, directed by Mark Robson

In early 1956, Bogart was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and he died on January 14, 1957.

Steiger recalled the actor’s professionalism during production, even while coping with the disease: “Bogey and I got on very well. Unlike some other stars, when they had closeups, you might have been relegated to a two-shot, or cut out altogether. Bogey didn’t play those games. He was a professional and had tremendous authority. He’d come in exactly at 9am and leave at precisely 6pm. I remember once walking to lunch in between takes and seeing Bogey on the lot. I shouldn’t have because his work was finished for the day. I asked him why he was still on the lot, and he said, ‘They want to shoot some retakes of my closeups because my eyes are too watery’. A little while later, after the film, somebody came up to me with word of Bogey’s death. Then it struck me. His eyes were watery because he was in pain with the cancer. I thought: ‘How dumb can you be, Rodney’!”

Movie Ending: Two Versions

The film was released with two different endings: one where Eddie Willis (inspired by sports writer Harold Conrad) demanded that boxing be banned altogether, and the other where he merely insisted that there be a federal investigation into boxing.

The video version contains the “harder” ending, while most TV prints end with the “softer” message.

Occasionally inaudible in a take, some of Bogart’s lines as Willis are reported to have been dubbed in post-production by Paul Frees.

The film premiered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther liked the film: “It’s a brutal and disagreeable story, probably a little far-fetched, and without Mr. Schulberg’s warmest character—the wistful widow who bestowed her favors on busted pugs. But with all the arcana of the fight game that Mr. Yordan and Mr. Robson have put into it—along with their bruising, brutish fight scenes—it makes for a lively, stinging film.”

Primo Carnera sued Columbia for $1.5 million in damages, alleging that the film was based on him and invaded his privacy. The lawsuit was not successful.