UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Somebody Up There Likes Me…Sly???

March 14, 2010
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      Somebody Up There Likes Me”, released in 1956, was the first “Paul Newman” movie.  

      Oh sure, blue-eyed dreamboat Paul had already appeared in a few others, even starred in a couple.   But this little jewel marked his emergence as a star.   If you haven’t seen it, you gotta see it.   So says the doctor.

      Be advised it’s a hard flick to find on DVD.   My research indicates you’ll probably have an easier time buying the VHS version for a few bucks.   Or just waiting for it to show up on AMC or TCM, which it does quite often.   But that’s not my problem.   My job is to review, probe, enlighten, entertain, and even occasionally expose.   Your job is to be both proactive and resourceful in improving your own life.   Good luck.

Original movie poster

Original movie poster



      Back to the movie.   Somebody Up There Likes Me” might well be my favorite Paul Newman vehicle.   It’s that good.   It’s the story of middleweight boxing champ Rocky Graziano, it’s the usual heartwarming, rags to riches yarn, but done so well you’re grateful.   Robert Wise is the director, Ernest Lehman the screenwriter.   Wise was so happy with the work Lehman did for him that a few years later he took Lehman with him to script their masterwork, “West Side Story”, thus making Wise and Lehman one of the truly great writer/director tandems of all time.   The peerless Perry Como sings the title tune, and since ex-barber Como was my dad’s favorite singer, that otherwise nebulous tidbit gets a brief shout-out from this corner.   There is only one full-fight boxing scene in “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, which only adds to the tension.   It is a shrewd move by Wise, a stroke of genius, for it stamps the story as one not about boxing, but rather about the people who inhabit a boxer’s world.

      Ironically, Newman almost didn’t get to play this role.   In fact he most assuredly would not have played Graziano, had not the brilliant but ill-fated James Dean—on Highway 46, up near Salinas—crashed his Porsche and perished, so shockingly, that grisly autumn day in September of 1955.   Dean had the role locked up, but when he died it fell to Newman.   And it jump-started his career.   (Ironically, the role of Graziano’s wife Norma fell to the youthful Pier Angeli….Dean’s former girlfriend.   Cool crumbs of coincidence indeed.)    

      Perhaps the most interesting scrap of minutiae attached to this fine little film has to do with the actors who made their debuts in it.   In fact, perhaps no other film in Hollywood history can claim to be the first-time launching pad for so many successful careers.   Let’s start with the B-list: There’s Angela Cartwright, who played Newman’s 3-year-old daughter.   You remember her from the “Lost In Space” television series, right?   Wise himself was so taken with her that a decade later he used her again, as one of the Von Trapp children in his epic, “The Sound Of Music” (also scripted by Lehman).   Then there is Dean Jones.   You might remember him as the star of several stock Disney movies from the 60s, including “That Darn Cat, “The Shaggy Dog”, and “The Love Bug”.   But he began in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” with a bit-part as one of Newman’s Army buddies.   As did Robert Loggia.   You might not recognize the name, but you certainly know who this fine character actor is if you are a fan of either “An Officer and a Gentleman” or “The Jagged Edge”.   His first-ever role was that of a crooked gambler who tries to get Graziano to throw a fight in order to score some big-time cash with the out-of-town bookies.

      But it’s the A-listers who made their first screen appearance in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” who are most likely to get your attention.   How about George C. Scott?   It’s a very small, uncredited bit-part, but he’s there.   So, too, Robert Duvall.   Both Oscar winners, both superstars.   And finally, Steve McQueen.   Yep, the “King of Cool” himself makes his first screen appearance as one of Newman’s fellow knife-wielding street-gang members, playing a hood named “Fidel”.  (I assume they don’t mean McQueen is playing a young Fidel Castro, but it’s Hollywood, so you never know).

      Men, this could be some useful information for you, if you think about it.   Useful for, say, picking up chicks.   Women are always susceptible to a fresh, clever opening line; everyone knows that.   You hit an unsuspecting hottie with a line like, “I bet’cha breakfast tomorrow morning you can’t tell me which movie marked the debuts of George C. Scott, Robert Duvall, and Steve McQueen,” and you might very well be well on your way to a big night.   Anyway, I’m happy to help.

      This concludes Part One of this column.   Hopefully by now you are sufficiently intrigued and jazzed about seeing “Somebody Up There Likes Me”.   You should be.   But there’s one other thing I need to do.   I need to ask a few hypothetical questions.   About the script.

      And I don’t mean the script of “Somebody Up There Likes Me”.

      No, I refer cryptically to the script of a far more successful and celebrated Hollywood “classic”.   Namely, Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”.  

      You remember “Rocky”.   A very famous movie.   Won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1976.   Personally, I didn’t agree with the Academy on this one.   I have a very hard time understanding how someone could see a standard boxing potboiler like “Rocky” and also see a transcendent, visionary masterpiece like “Network” and then not vote for the latter.   But that’s not the point.

      The point is Stallone.   Sly not only starred in the film, but also wrote it, and even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay along the way.

      That’s my problem.  

      It doesn’t seem fair that you can garner an Academy Award nomination simply by stealing another guy’s script and then changing the words around.

      Before you all whip yourselves into a lather, please understand that I’m not the kind of guy to openly accuse a fellow writer of being a thief and a fraud.   For one thing, there’s always a small chance that I could be wrong.   For another, there are better ways to do it.   And so that’s what we’re going to do.   We’re going to pretend we’re addressing our probing narrative directly to Sly Stallone, and all we are going to do is ask him a few hypothetical questions.   That’s all.

      For starters, both movies are about Italian guys who are boxers.   No problem there.   It’s a common theme, hardly something that crosses the line from inspiration to theft.   But what would you say, Sly, if the guy who wrote the later, copycat script barely changed the hero’s name?   Graziano’s real name before he changed it to Graziano to avoid getting caught by the military police for going AWOL from the Army was Rocco—then Rocky—Barbella.   Stallone’s Rocky was Rocky Balboa.   Barbella and Balboa.   Barbella and Balboa?   Rocky Barbella and Rocky Balboa?   Are you kidding me?   Would it have really taken that much of an effort to at least make it look good???  (For instance, instead of Rocky Balboa, Sly, you could have called him, I don’t know, Rocky Magnacocky, or something similarly musical and uplifting.)

      And did your fictional character’s regrettable pre-boxing occupation as a cliché finger-breaker and enforcer for a local loan shark have to so closely parallel real-life Rocco Barbella’s regrettable pre-boxing avocation as that of a cliché (but at least in his case, true to life) knife-wielding gang member?   And when your character strolled around the streets of Philadelphia, did you have to imitate Paul Newman’s exact I’m-not-too-bright-but-I’m-supercool-own-the-streets-cigarette-dangling walk while wearing the same damn type of stupid cheap hat???   It’s embarrassing.

      How ‘bout the heroine?   In “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, Rocky’s future wife meets Rocky while gainfully employed (unlike chronic miscreant Rocky) in some sort of a pet store, she is dark haired and petite, they go on long walks so we can see Rocky talk her head off, she marries Rocky and has precisely one kid during the movie, she is shy, withdrawn and introverted, but her love for Rocky not only gives Rocky confidence and self-respect but his love for her turns her from a chronic shrinking violet into a tough savvy fiery fighter of a gal who goes from abhorring boxing as brutal and obscene to a my-man-first-and-unconditionally type of confident broad who winds up embracing the necessity of her husband being a boxer to the point where she urges her man to knock the champ’s block off in the 2nd title fight after he loses the 1st title fight.  (deep breath)   Now, what about Rocky’s future wife in the copycat version….let’s see….hey!   Guess what!   In “Rocky”, Rocky’s future wife is gainfully employed (unlike chronic miscreant Rocky) in a pet store and she is also dark haired and petite, they go on long walks so we can see Rocky talk her head off, she also marries Rocky and also eventually has precisely one kid, she is also shy, withdrawn and introverted, but her love for her Rocky not only gives Rocky confidence and self-respect but his love for her also turns her from a chronic shrinking violet into a tough savvy fiery fighter of a gal who goes from abhorring boxing as brutal and obscene to a my-man-first-and-unconditionally type of confident broad who winds up embracing the necessity of her husband being a boxer to the point where she urges her man to knock the champ’s block off in the 2nd title fight after he loses the 1st title fight!   Wow.   Could all that really be a coincidence?   And if not, Sly, wouldn’t the writer of the 2nd script, the copycat version written twenty years later, have been well advised to have written his heroine a little differently to avoid detection?   Like maybe make her a bisexual blonde biker chick with shoulders more powerful than her boxer husband’s.   I’m just askin’.   Remember, these questions are all merely hypothetical.

      And finally (and this one really gets my goat), what would you say, Sly—hypothetically of course—to a so-called “screenwriter” who gives his hero a one-line mantra of “absolutely” to spew in a low illiterate Italian-accent voice every chance he gets (the way Rocky Balboa does in “Rocky”) when twenty short years earlier Rocky Balboa, uh,  ‘er, I mean Barbella, no I mean Graziano, struts around in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” spewing the one-word mantra “definitely” in a low illiterate Italian-accent voice as many times as legitimate screenwriter Lehman can wedge it in???   Definitely.   Absolutely.   Definitely.   Absolutely.   Definitely.   Absolutely.   ‘Heavens to Murgatroyd’, my loyal Snagglepussies, have you ever seen such marvelous use of misdirection to completely throw us all off the track???   Oh brother….

      Enough.   That’s about all my spleen can stand right now.

      Of course it could all just be coincidence.   Maybe the rich, famous, beloved writer of the “Rocky” script which launched his career didn’t simply watch “Somebody Up There Likes Me” a few times and then take all the exact themes outlined above and change things around just a little bit (but not much, ironically) and then hope and pray the world wouldn’t notice.   Maybe.   But here’s my final hypothetical question for you, Mr. Stallone, or for anyone else who is interested:  Wouldn’t anybody who actually believes that be pretty much a moron?

      Anyway, Mr. S., just consider this little love note a belated valentine from the Doctor of Ancient Filmology.   I just wanted you to know that you may have succeeded in snowing the whole world, but not me.   I’m on to you, man.   I was never fooled.   I’m on to you.




Brad Eastland, our Dr. of Ancient Filmology, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (So if you want to hear about new-release films, pick up a Times).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:

The Doctor

The Doctor








2 Responses to “UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Somebody Up There Likes Me…Sly???”

  1. So you’ve entered a “New, but related, Genre” of writing. I like it!

  2. So you’ve added a “New, but related, Genre”. I like it!


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