OUR FAVORITE FILMS
Robert DeNiro as former middleweight
boxing champ Jake LaMotta
An incisive look at a champ
who once came after Andy
By ANDY MURCIA
You may know Martin Scorsese's 1980 film "Raging Bull" is the story of prizefighter Jake LaMotta and it takes place in the 1940s and 50s. This is a film I love and one reason is that I know the territory.
This was my era as a boy growing up with a father who loved boxing, I saw that era both through his eyes and mine.
Another reason I have a personal connection to "Raging Bull" is the fact that I once met the real Jake LaMotta. Well, I suppose a more accurate description of what happened is that he almost met me, but his legs were pretty well gone by then and he couldnt catch me
Let me explain.
One of my first girlfriends use to babysit Jakes kids when he lived in North Miami Beach, Florida in the 1950s. Soon as Jake and his wife left the house and the kids were in bed, shed call the payphone (you remember those) in the drug store where I hung out as a teenager. Shed let me know the coast was clear and Id drive over.
We got some TV watching in and ate well out of Jakes ample fridge. On one such occasion Jake came home unexpectedly to find yours truly curled up on his couch with my girlfriend. He entered one door and yelled, Who the hell is that?
Now, in the boxing ring, LaMotta was a savage, bent on the total demolition of the other guy. If you ever saw LaMotta in the ring, you'll understand why I immediately jumped up and ran out his back door, hurdling a fence. He was coming for me, all right, just the way he used to come after those fighters he liked to hammer to pieces with angry fists.
When I finally got up the nerve to look back, I saw Jake had stopped at the fence. I guess he was past the point where he could get over a fence gracefully without looking like an old fat guy.
Lucky for me I parked my car on the corner. As I drove home, I thought about that mean-ass look on Jakes face and how my legs saved my life! Id surely not visit my girlfriend at his house anymore.
But Jake didnt last too much longer in that house either. He was arrested before long. Jake was pinched for having an underage girl in his barroom on Miami Beach. My father told me all about it. But like the movie depicted, Jake had trouble accurately discerning the ages of girls. Maybe you could blame that on all those Sugar Ray Robinson lefts and rights that had drummed on his noggin.
Each time I see "Raging Bull," I spot more details that I missed in previous viewings. The dialogue makes me feel like Im back home in Brooklyn. listening to all those pop records of the period that you hear on the movie's soundtrack.
Robert DeNiro is superb as LaMotta, but so is Cathy Moriarty, who plays his wife. The whole cast is outstanding. I know DeNiro won the Oscar for his performanc, but they could have made a mass distribution of Oscars to all the other members of this cast, too. Moriarty now owns Mulberry Street Pizza here in California. She opened a shop near my house in the Encino area and we love her pizza. My pal actor Tony Lo Bianco introduced me to Cathy at her Beverly Hills Pizza joint and she seemed exactly like the character she played in "Raging Bull." I think she was born for this role. So maybe she was not really acting? Or did it just seem that way? Anyway, she was nice and she sells great pizza.
But the film's greatness really starts with director Martin Scorcese, who captured LaMotta's world down to the smallest detail. Filming it in black and white made it more realistic for me and sets the grim mood so well. The musical score ranges from hit tunes of the day to great opera.
Even if you dont like boxing, you will like this film unless you have virgin ears for the dialogue, which is rough at times. Its so rough you must be sure you can take it when you let this Bull into your living room with all his vulgar and seedy things to say. I found myself laughing out loud at so many of his choice comments and well able to recall someone on my block in Canarsie who talked just like dat only worser maybe.
If you somehow missed this movie, which is already regarded as a modern film classic, go rent the video or DVD right away before people start thinking you're a tasteless moron.
©2006 by Andy Murcia. This column first posted April 3, 2006.
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