There’s a certain irony in the title of the Hugh Jackman film “Real Steel.” After all, the story was first staged decades ago as a Twilight Zone episode simply titled “Steel,” making the newer incarnation something of a counterfeit.
That’s not to say the Jackman film is bad. I haven’t seen it, so I’ll reserve judgment. But whether it merits a thumbs up or a thumbs down, it’s worth remembering what made the Richard Matheson original so memorable.
Start, as nearly all good stories do, with an intriguing premise: In the near future, boxing between humans is outlawed. It’s limited to robots — or, as Serling specifies in his intro, to androids — “definition: ‘an automaton resembling a human being’.”
Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin, star of the Zone episode “The Grave“) is a manager who is traveling to a bout with an outdated model — a B2, in a world where the B7 is the latest model. He believes fervently in “Battlin’ Maxo,” but his partner, Pole (played by Joe Mantell, star of the Zone episode “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”), is just as convinced they’re wasting their time. Why keep trying to hold an old android together with shoestring repairs?
Sure enough, Maxo breaks down minutes before the fight. Pole is ready to throw in the towel, but Steel refuses to forfeit even a modest purse. He insists on taking Maxo’s place in the ring. With a little make-up and the right expression, maybe no one will know the difference. (If you haven’t seen this episode, feel free to bail — spoilers ahead.)