The teleplay won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script, and helped establish Serling’s reputation. The broadcast was directed by Ralph Nelsonand is generally considered one of the finest examples of live television drama in the United States, as well as being Serling‘s personal favorite of his own work. Nelson and Serling won Emmy Awards for their work.
Jack Palance portrays Harlan “Mountain” McClintock, a once-promising but now washed-up boxer who faces the end of his career after he is savagely defeated by a younger boxer. Keenan Wynn portrays McClintock’s manager Maish; Keenan’s father Ed plays McClintock’s cut man, Army.
McClintock is suffering from Dementia pugilistica or “punch drunk syndrome”—brain damage caused by his career. A fight doctor refuses to certify McClintock for further boxing, saying that another rough match could blind or even kill him. Boxing is all McClintock has ever known, and he’s both terrified of trying something new, and intensely loyal to Maish, who has nurtured him from his youth. Maish has troubles of his own, however: he owes money to the Mafia and tried to raise funds by betting that McClintock would be knocked out early (instead, by gamely and bravely taking a beating and refusing to go down, McClintock cost Maish a fortune).
Kim Hunter portrayed Grace Carney, an employment agency worker who tries to help the boxer make a transition to a new career. Maish persuades the boxer to turn to professional wrestling, though McClintock is proud that he never had a fixed fight and is uncomfortable with the staged, predetermined wrestling match.
Army disapproves of Maish’s plans and refuses to be a part of them. Just before he is scheduled to go into the wrestling ring in a humiliating mountain man costume, McClintock learns of Maish’s betting against him, and parts ways with his manager and mentor. Though he feels that boxing can ruin men’s lives, Maish finds another promising young boxer to train. McClintock takes a chance on working with children at summer camp.
Because Serling and Palance were both experienced boxers, they brought a level of authenticity to Requiem for a Heavyweight, although there was very little boxing depicted in the broadcast. Requiem for a Heavyweight was the beginning of what became one of the new medium’s most successful creative teams, writer Rod Serling and director Ralph Nelson.