Years before The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling penned this teleplay that was aired in 1956. The original teleplay starred Jack Palance, Ed Wynn, and Keenan Wynn (father and son in the same production, but not playing father and son). Incidentally, Keenan Wynn would go on to be in multiple TZ episodes.
Remarkably, it was the first full-length feature of it's kind to be aired live. A "making of" piece I saw on it original airing revealed it was such a highly stressful endeavor that the producer, minutes before airtime, convinced it was a mistake, wondered what other careers he might be qualified for. So influential was Requiem that it was given a British BBC version (with Sean Connery as the boxer), and a Dutch television version, and several years later would be made as a film starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, and Mickey Rooney.
Jack Palance starred as Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, a washed-up boxer who was once a contender for heavyweight champ. Now punch-drunk, a shadow of his former glory, boxing is all he has ever known. Keenan Wynn plays his manager Maish, and Ed Wynn his cut guy Army. When Mountain is told by the fight doctor that his next fight might kill him, he is forced to retire from boxing.
It is revealed early on that Maish, who nurtured Mountain as a very young boxer, and to whom Mountain is very loyal, made a bet with the Mob, unbeknownst to either Mountain or Army, that Mountain would go down in an early round in his last fight. Instead, Mountain, while savagely beaten, had lasted longer than expected, with Maish now owing a sizeable debt to the Mob.
Meanwhile, Mountain goes to an employment agency to try and find a job. As boxing is all he's ever known, he finds that he has virtually no qualifications for anything offered by the agency. Grace, an agency worker, has a great deal of pity toward Mountain, but realizes there's not much she can do for him. But later comes to find him to let him know she found a position teaching boxing at a youth summer camp that he would be qualified for. He is still reluctant and scared at the prospect of working with children, something he has never done.
Maish, under pressure to raise funds to avoid Mob retaliation, convinces Mountain to try wrestling, having made a deal with a local wrestling promoter who thinks Mountain's boxing reputation might draw some business. However, once Mountain shows up the night of his first match and finds out it's a rigged match and that he has to wear a "mountain man" costume and adopt a persona, he refuses, seeing it as a humiliation, and being intensely proud that he never took a dive in his entire boxing career. Army tells him to take whatever dignity he has left and go back home to Tennessee where he's from and maybe he can find a new start there.
In order to avoid retaliation for his debt, Maish has no choice but to take on a cocky young boxer that the Mob demand he train to repay his debt.
As Mountain prepares to leave the city, Grace finds him to try and convince him to stay and take the job. He considers, but gets on the train, saying he may be back. On the train, Mountain encounters a young boy who is fascinated by his cauliflower ears and asks if he is a boxer. Mountain talks to the boy and discovers a connection. In that moment, Mountain realizes that he's been away from his hometown for so many years, that there really isn't much there for him anymore, and reveals that he will only be visiting, resolving to return to the city and take the job.
Requiem For a Heavyweight was a risky move that paid off. Amazingly bittersweet, it was critically acclaimed and very much put Rod Serling on the map as a writer. I used to own a copy of it on VHS and watched it many times. For a drama that has virtually no boxing action in it whatsoever, it is remarkably engaging. Watching it, it is very hard to believe that it was actually aired and acted live. No retakes. Once or twice you see where a line may have been slightly flubbed, but only if you know ahead of time that it was live. The teleplay hints ever so slightly at a potential romance between Mountain and Grace, but wisely keeps it at a safe distance, keeping it more about a man struggling with how to pick up the pieces of his life and maintain his dignity. It's hard not to rejoice at his ability to do just that, despite bad influences and his own limitations.