Robert Wise directed one of my favorite noirs, the tense Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and he also helmed some other gems while genre-hopping, particularly 1963’s The Haunting and of course 1951’s sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still.
While Somebody Up There Likes Me is more notable as an early Paul Newman performance than anything else, it’s still solid, and follows Wise’s 1949 film, the excellent The Set-Up, as another boxing film that probably influenced the moody ring cinematography of later classics like Raging Bull.
It’s not only those fight scenes that may have caught Scorsese’s eyes, but also Wise and cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg’s location shooting. This wide-shot of New York is beautifully misty:
Here’s one of those boxing scenes (and there are many of them). I particularly liked this one for a nice lighting cue.
As Newman’s Rocky Graziano spars with an opponent all that is visible of the crowd is about four rows deep:
Graziano gets knocked to the ropes and the lights start to come on, signaling the end of the round:
Graziano backs up further and the rest of the lights come on, revealing the true depth and crowdedness of the arena:
It’s a great moment where the boxers start as two nearly lone men battling it out to only a chosen few, and then are soon thereafter thrown to the public.
One moment in Somebody Up There threw me off. Rocky fake boxes with an opponent, intentionally doing so playfully so as to imply to his girlfriend Norma (Pier Angeli) that he’s not in a vicious sport:
Wise cuts to her reaction and her eyes roam from the ring where Rocky spars to the other side of the gym:
The next cut is the one below, a wide-shot. I was expecting classic POV, meaning that this next shot would be what Norma was looking at. It’s not. That’s Norma in the bottom left of the frame. I actually had to search for her and got momentarily disoriented. It was only momentary, but it threw me. I couldn’t really find a reason for it. It’s not that it’s wrong – everything still works – but my eye trace lost a beat and for that second I was searching through the frame rather than watching the story.
Wise worked on Odds Against Tomorrow with Abraham Polonsky who had a run in during the HUAC hearings. Somebody Up There Likes Me, like On the Waterfront two years earlier, could be HUAC metaphor at times, though Wise was no colluder like Kazan. Rocky is put on the proverbial stand and asked to identify the men who asked him to rig a fight. When the true criminals walk in, Rocky recognizes them (that’s a young Robert Loggia) but won’t say anything:
While Brando’s Terry Malloy is essentially heroic in Kazan’s great film for naming names, here Rocky keeps his mouth shut. It’s a tough analogy though: if Rocky’s refusal to talk is equivalent to HUAC silence, then who is he protecting? A criminal who ultimately is self-serving and harmful.
A New Film
A short note that I’ll be following up on in future blogs. I’ll be shooting my second feature film, a still untitled heist movie, this summer in and around Philadelphia. More info to come, including some artwork, cast notices, and location photos!