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Based on Graziano's autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) reveals the life of the boxer as he evolves from a young, poor ruffian, to a reform school student, to a prison inmate, to a middleweight boxing champion. Pier Angeli plays his supportive wife, Norma. Whereas Newman won rave reviews in his portrayal of Graziano, the part was originally intended for James Dean. Though Dean held a Warner Bros. contract at that time, MGM acquired his services for one film when MGM lent Elizabeth Taylor to Warners for Giant. To fulfil their agreement with Warners, MGM considered giving Dean the lead in Somebody . Dean read Graziano's autobiography and met with MGM head Dore Schary one Friday afternoon. Sadly, the following day, Saturday afternoon, Dean was killed in a head-on collision en route to a racing event in Salinas, California.
After Dean's death MGM decided that Newman should be his replacement. In his autobiography Heyday, Schary writes, "We liked Paul very much. Though he had not yet punched his way into real stardom, I felt he needed only one juicy part to get there." Newman, fresh off of two box-office disappointments (1954's The Silver Chalice and 1956's The Rack) jumped at the chance to star in the film. To some, regardless of how Newman came to be the lead in Somebody, he was better suited for the role than Dean. Says director Robert Wise: "I always had in my mind that maybe Dean was not physically a middleweight, somehow. And Paul did one of his best characterizations in it; he really caught that man." On his third film attempt, Newman finally achieved the box-office success that had eluded him previously and went on to become a major Hollywood star.
On the other hand, neither Angeli's career nor love life improved after Dean's death. Angeli had dated Dean in the 1950s and never got over his untimely demise. After she separated from her second husband in 1963, Angeli announced, "I am still in love, deeply and eternally with Jimmy Dean." With good film roles hard to come by and her love life in shambles, she sank into severe depression. When a suicidal Angeli overdosed on barbiturates in 1971, her motivation may have been her failure to come across decent film roles coupled with her inability to get over the loss of James Dean.
Despite the vast difference in how their lives turned out, Paul Newman and Pier Angeli will always be remembered for their knockout performances in Somebody Up There Likes Me.
Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Charles Schnee
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman (based on the autobiography of Rocky Graziano written with Rowland Barber)
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Malcolm Brown
Editor: Albert Akst
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Paul Newman (Rocky Graziano), Pier Angeli (Norma Graziano), Everett Sloane (Irving Cohen), Eileen Heckart (Ma Barbella), Sal Mineo (Romolo), Harold Stone (Nick Barbella), Robert Loggia (Frankie Peppo), Frank Campanella (Detective), Steve McQueen (Fidel).
BW-114m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Georgelle Cole