Rocky start

SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is perhaps a better David Bowie song than it is a Robert Wise film, but it’s an interesting Robert Wise film. It’s hampered by being an unsuitable vehicle for Paul Newman, who seems to be trying awfully hard, which is of course a problem. I can believe him as a boxer. I can’t believe him as an Italianamerican (ironically, or crazily, Pier Angeli, a real Italian, plays Jewish while the half-Jewish Newman plays Italianamerican). And I can’t believe him as a mook.

Everett Sloane provides a bit of ethnic authenticity with screenwriter Ernest Lehman giving him the best lines. Sloane must be on or about his last nose reduction by now, but still looks like a guy with a big schnozz. Even though most of it’s been shaved off, you can still see it. The phantom nose.

Wise has a strategy for getting us immersed in the film before this becomes a problem, which is to hit ramming speed as soon as the main titles are over and maintain that for most of the first act. To the sheer speed is added tremendous force and, if you’ll excuse the expression, punchiness. Despite his low-budget beginnings, Wise developed a gift for making settings epic, and the New York scenes here have the same kind of breadth and dynamism he brought to WEST SIDE STORY and even THE SOUND OF MUSIC (it’s big and bloated but it MOVES). Wise, like fellow editor Mark Robson, did a lot of these overblown epics of the fifties and sixties but he was often able to put them on ball bearings and get some momentum going.

I thought it was funny that Sal Mineo stays a teenager as years go by. “Why isn’t he growing up?”

“I think he’s pretty well cooked,” said Fiona. “He’s not getting any bigger.”

I never quite got over Newman’s wrongness. Is it because I’ve seen him in too many WASP-y and articulate roles to buy this? I don’t think so. He can do the body language, in a slightly over-the-top way, and he can sort of make the sounds, but the rhythms seems way off throughout.

Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg earned his Oscar — you can see little stabs at the kind of furious expressivity RAGING BULL would introduce to the ring — this feels like the one Scorsese and Michael Chapman and Thelma Schoonmaker drew most from. But I still have to see THE SET-UP, shamefully enough.

6 Responses to “Rocky start”

  1. Paul Clipson Says:

    If you haven’t before, you should next write about in my opinion,Wise’s best film, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW. an astonishing work for several reasons: Harry Belafonte, John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Ed Begley and his dog, the titles by Storyboard (John Hubley and co.?), Joseph C. Brun, and last but not least, Abraham Polonsky.

  2. It’s time I revisited that. Lat time I saw it I was too young and snotty and had a grudge against Robert Wise over Magnificent Ambersons (I was about 18)…

  3. It’s time you did. As for SUTLM, James Dean, who was originally signed to do the part, would have been just as wrong for it.

  4. That is the weirdest bit of film: the sync problem, the fact that it accidentally seems to be in sync sometimes, the repetitions, the weirdly aggressive bonhomie (nerves?) of Newman (whose birthday it is: happy Birthday, Butch, wherever you are)…

  5. ‘I thought it was funny that Sal Mineo stays a teenager as years go by. “Why isn’t he growing up?”’

    I always think the all timer of not aging is Ralph Macchio, who always seemed to look like he did in The Karate Kid. Even when he began to show signs of aging, he still looked like a kid if that makes sense.

  6. They needed him for this movie! The problem with Mineo is he looks about fourteen, but about ten years go by in the film. So they put dark circles under his eyes (he’s been living a life of crime), so now he looks like a wasted fourteen-year-old.

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