After reading the short story Steel by Richard Matheson (in which the 2011 blockbuster Real Steel was loosely based), my curiosity was piqued upon learning that before the movie, there was already a Twilight Zone episode made based on it. So what was left to do except search the internet for said episode?
Good news. After moments of looking, I successfully managed to unearth the black and white classic that is roughly two decades older than me.
I should say, the short story is far different from the movie, and the Twilight Zone episode was a much more faithful interpretation of the literature. The story centers around former heavyweight boxer “Steel” Kelly (a monicker he earned after never being knocked out in his career), and his battered B2 robot “Battling Maxo” (Max is the name of Steel’s son in the 2011 movie while the robot is named Atom). Maxo is set to fight the B7 Maynard Flash, who, aside from being a stronger a newer model, is also a crowd favorite. While Steel and his mechanic partner Pole check Maxo for various kinks before the fight, Maxo’s wear and tear does him in. Desperate to earn the cash that will fix Maxo, Steel decides to fight Maynard himself (while posing as a robot).
The short story in itself is very good, albeit a bit short for my tastes. It was originally released by Matheson in 1956 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science and Fiction, and speaks of the future where real boxing has been outlawed. Quite forward thinking, even in modern standards as society has yet to see this happen almost 60 years after the story was written.
What I liked about the episode was that it managed to convey the actual content of the story in roughly 25 minutes. Even in black and white, (original release date October 4, 1963) it put in a good effort although during the fight, it was obvious that the punches were being pulled so the actual beating that Steel took did not look as compelling as it was described in the story. Lee Marvin, the actor who played Steel also came through as a manic obsessive has-been whose preoccupation with his robot makes him treat people (Pole) shabbily, unlike the optimistic and tenacious character the book intended him to be.
For a classic, it was not bad, but I’m quite unsure if it was Twilight Zone material at all because I have often associated the series with horror, suspense and the unexplainable. 🙂 Check this out to view the entire episode and see how it compares with the movie, and feel free to leave a comment about what you thought of it.