Rocky Graziano is considered one of the greatest boxers of all-time, known for his thunderous knockouts. Saying he was a troublemaker is an understatement – as a teenager he spent more time in and out of reformatories and jails than in school. It’s fairly easy to see the amount of drama, violence and eventual triumph such a life has. And perhaps that is precisely what is missing from Somebody Up There Likes Me. Though it does depict Graziano’s life since he was a boy until he fought against Tony Zale, it can be hard to really feel both his pain and joy, as the film appears to barely scratch the surface of the boxer’s early life.
Also, one may consider that some of the most interesting moments of his life happened later, like when he got knocked-out by Sugar Ray, but then it wouldn’t have the same ending – something that perhaps wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Either way, though the boxing world is mean and brutal (and for Graziano, it didn’t exactly end in splendor), to not depict his whole career was a choice like any other. As I’ve said, the issue I have with Wise’s film is its superficiality: too much happens too quickly, and though Newman does a fine work with getting as much as he can out of the character, it feels like the script is not willing to let him go all the way. Or perhaps it’s just not that kind of film – maybe it wasn’t meant to be brutal and “true”, and maybe it wasn’t meant to exalt character development. Still, let me be clear: it is a good movie.
Though the films sprints through it all, it does so with style, so only good things to say about the visuals. As for the acting, it’s hard to picture a better cast, even though at the time they had no way of knowing that some of them would soon become some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. I’m speaking of course not only of Paul Newman’s breakout, but particularly of Steve McQueen, who appears for only five minutes or so, uncredited (imagine that).
It is hard to picture someone more ethereal than Pier Angeli, who plays Rocky’s wife, creating an alluring contrast with his character’s toughness. Sal Mineo kept showing his talent shortly after doing Rebel, as a troubled young boy, one of Rocky’s friends. All of them create some interesting and funny moments, and there’s very little to say against their performances. “Little”, for though undoubtedly a great actor, I just can’t get over Newman’s italian accent – it’s a detail, but it’s one that keeps coming back for two hours.