Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fat City (John Huston, 1972)

The old "could have been a contender" routine is given a bleak makeover in the gritty Fat City, John Huston's straightforward, naturalistic and little viewed tale about a down on his luck boxer named Tully. I'm not gonna lie, my knowledge of boxing is pretty much nonexistent. All I know is that the main objective is to render your opponent unconscious through a series of punches to the face. Sure, body blows are important as well, but the closer you hit to where the brain is stored, the more effective you will be in terms of causing unconsciousness. But other than that, I'm definitely a neophyte. So as you can see, my credibility when it comes to declaring this to be the best boxing movie I have ever seen is a tad on the iffy side; you know, with the fact that beyond the recent Million Dollar Baby, I haven't seen that many boxing movies. (I've only seen the iconic bits from Rocky and Raging Bull.) However, like most movies about sports and the athletes who compete in them, the actual activity itself is just a convenient metaphor for life's numerous ups and downs, and can be enjoyed on a number of non-sport related levels.

Spearheaded by two wonderful performances by Stacy Keach and Susan Tyrrell (the principal reason I watched this in the first place), the film is about Tully (Keach), a washed-up prizefighter living near the poverty line in Stockton, California. One day, the out of shape Tully meets Ernie (Jeff Bridges) at the Y.M.C.A. and is mildly invigorated by the youthful punch thrower after they spare a little. He thinks the kid's got talent and sends the wide-eyed 18 year-old to see Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto), his old trainer, while he continues to pick onions in the hot sun (life ain't easy for worn out boxers). Tully's mundane existence is spruced up when he falls for a shapely rummy named Oma (Tyrrell). Their relationship is contentious from the get-go, and threatens to complicate the fighter's comeback attempt.

I was surprised to learn that Stacy Keach wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his dishevelled turn as the boxer/day labourer. He gives a centred, yet quiet performance that doesn't have a false note (his hopelessness was exquisite). On the other hand, I wasn't surprised when I found out afterward that always wonderful Susan Tyrrell got nominated for her spunky work as Oma, a loquacious barfly with abandonment issues. Giving raving lunatics and adorable lushes a good name, Susan chews up the scenery left and right, spouting emasculating put-downs and using her inherent cuteness as a weapon. I loved the way she would repeatedly test the limits of Tully's sanity. Which is pretty risky when consider that she's living in a cramped room with a boxer.

Capturing the more unglamourous side to organized athletics, Fat City is teeming with unhappiness. And I mean that in the best possible way. There's an authenticity at work here that separates it from the majority of movies that revolve around sports. Whether it's the scenes with Stacy Keach and Susan Tyrrell moping around their dingy apartment (their insidious argument over dinner is the film's most compelling), or the carefree manner it went about depicting the boxing sequences, the film oozes truthfulness (I loved how Tully didn't even realize he'd won a fight). Now, this honesty is probably more of a reflection on the decade it was filmed than anything else (unflinching realism was big in the 1970s), but either way, there's a definite at purity at work here that should appeal to fans of small town boxing, morose drama, and, of course, the fantastic Miss Tyrrell.

video uploaded by Bomarzzo


  1. Yum-Yum: Tyrell's performance is of a kind that I might consider awful if it didn't exactly fit the decrepit milieu of this otherwise unmelodramatic and thoroughly superior Seventies film. If more people didn't think of it as a boxing movie, more might give it the try it deserves.

  2. Sounds great. I'll have to check it out. really should see all of the original "Rocky". It's a truly great film no matter how many people yell "Taxi Driver" or "Network" whenever they hear it's name. The kind of film you'd like too. It's basically a B movie that went A.

  3. Dude, there's a remake of Fright Night in the works! What on God's green earth?

  4. Samuel Wilson: Funny you should use the word "unmelodramatic," as I was gonna call Fat City a "melodrama." But when I looked up the exact meaning of the word, I quickly realized that it didn't apply to this film at all.

    I like the way "decrepit" and "milieu" look when placed together.

    Cliff: Why would someone yell "Taxi Driver" or "Network"? Oh yeah, those flicks lost to Rocky at the Oscars. I've pretty much seen all of Rocky, just not from beginning to end.

    Karim Amir: Seriously, I was just eyeballing my upcoming entry on Fright Night seconds before I came across your comment. Freaky. Anyway, I have no interest in seeing a Fright Night remake; the original cannot be topped... the club scene especially. Oh, God. I just pictured Zac Efron in the William Ragsdale role.

  5. FRIGHT NIGHT remake??? That's a bummer...wait...I just pictured John Larroquette in the Roddy McDowall role...and it kinda' worked.

  6. While you were picturing John Larroquette as Peter Vincent, I was busy picturing Anne Heche as the vampire and Kat Dennings as the nosy teen next-door. (Yeah, that's right, I switched up the genders.)

  7. Hooray for Susan Tyrell. Have you ever seen "Night Warning" -- in which she gives possibly the most insane female performance of all time? She really, really scares me.

  8. No, I haven't seen "Night Warning," but I want to... big time.