The breakout role that introduced audiences to a new enduring star: Paul Newman.
Synopsis: Boxer Rocky Graziano’s biopic, based on his autobiography, from childhood to his World Middleweight Championship title win at age 28 in 1947. (IMDB)
Starring: Paul Newman, Pier Angeli, and Everett Sloane
Writer: Ernest Lehman
Director: Robert Wise
Rating: PG (Canada)
Running Time: 113mins
“Somebody Up There Likes Me” is based on the autobiography of Rocky Graziano, a middleweight boxer who won the Championship title in 1947. Rocky had a bumpy road until his victory; he was a troublemaker in his early years, was expelled from the Army for rebellious behavior and ended up in jail. There, his potential as a fighter was finally recognized and encouraged and he left prison with an objective in mind: to make a living as a boxer. But when he finally got into the fighting world he discovers that he would still be hustling for his money.
This is the movie that made Paul Newman a star. And it is unquestionable why: Rocky (Newman) is a rich character, full of layers and constructed in a way that you can see all his different sides. He’s tough and hot-tempered, but he also falls in love and wants to do better for his family. He is treated badly by his father but still wants to help him and make his mother proud. And he is in hell when he understands that he is still hustling, only in a different way.
Newman sank his teeth into this opportunity and totally commands our attention. The part was originally James Dean’s, but after his tragic death, Newman inherited the character. Newman had been around for a while in a series on unremarkable roles and Rocky was his first big chance of showing what he really had in him – and it was a lot, as we all became familiar with. He gives his all to the performance and it’s quite an emotionally strong creation, tough and fragile at the same time.
Rocky reminds us of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in the beginning. He has an explosive temper that is very physical and intense. But in time you see that he learns how to use that in the ring and he opens himself to be more vulnerable outside, especially with his family.
There is an interesting social commentary here: wrongdoings happen in any scenario because it depends on the choices made in life. Rocky was raised in a poor family and he had a difficult relationship with his father, leading him to a life of scams and problems. His personality was so untamed he couldn’t even fit in the army and ended up in jail. But them he socialized, only to discover that he was still being a part of scams, only now in a “legitimate” way as a boxer. So there wasn’t a right, clear and secure path before him. There wasn’t a safe choice he could make and then relax. Every choice that he made presented him with another set of choices and he learned the hard way how to deal with those challenges and be true to his needs.
This is a strong message delivered with a strong emotional connecting offered by the layered work of Paul Newman. A great cast supports him here; Angeli is engaging as his wife Norma, Sal Mineo is great as the friend Romolo, Eileen Heckart and Harold J. Stone are also great as the parents, Ma and Nick Barbella. You can also spot on the film a few future stars in uncredited parts, like Robert Loggia, Angela Cartwright and even Steve McQueen.
“Somebody Up There Likes Me” is not the most-remembered or talked about film from the 50’s. But it deserves a look.
If you like this review, look me up on Instagram for more suggestions.