An unglamorous, unsentimental and uncompromising boxing flick, with John Huston trying on some New Hollywood togs and finding that they suit him just fine. For an hour, he bobs and weaves – playing much of the story for laughs – before whacking us repeatedly in the solar plexus, as his film finds both its rhythm and its raison d’être.
I’m not an enormous fan of that first hour: it commences with back-to-back scenes soundtracked only by songs – while both sequences are fine in themselves, that quirk is without real artistic or dramatic value – and when the film does get going, its moments of everyday tragedy are somewhat lost in an episodic structure and a style that leans too much towards the glib and cartoonish.
In the final 40 minutes, though, the gloves come off, and the film’s punches begin to really land. The virtues that have been obscured by padding and side-stepping become blindingly obvious: Keach’s bruising, multi-layered performance, the bitter poetry of Leonard Gardner’s dialogue, Susan Tyrell’s fantastically annoying turn as the tragic, throaty, and self-pitying Ona, and Conrad L. Hall‘s sumptuous cinematography, which captures both the glory of a Californian summer and the horror of perhaps cinema’s worst home-cooked meal.
Audio commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman • Sucker Punch Blues: Looking Back on John Huston’s ‘Fat City'(2017, 55 mins): new documentary featuring interviews with actors Stacy Keach and Candy Clark, casting director Fred Roos and assistant cameraman Gary Vidor. • An American Classic (2015): a newly illustrated audio interview with Fat City author Leonard Gardner • John Huston on Fat CIty (1972): an archival interview filmed for the French TV programme Pour le cinéma. • The John Player Lecture with John Huston (1972): audio recording of an interview conducted by Brian Baxter at the National Film Theatre, London • Isolated score • Original theatrical trailer • Image gallery • Limited edition exclusive 28-page booklet with a new essay by Danny Leigh, a contemporary review, and John Huston’s reminiscences about the film.
Drama, Sports | USA, 1973 | 15 | 27th March 2017 (UK) | Powerhouse Films | Dir.John Huston |Jeff Bridges, Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrell, Candy Clark | Buy:Fat City (Dual Format Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Big Heat
While watching Fritz Lang‘s film, I realised a lot of cool aspects about what makes it such a special film-noir. Glenn Ford is insane as a cop out for revenge. Gloria Grahame is in most ways a femme fatale, yet she’s not poison to Glenn Ford. Lee Marvin is running around throwing coffee on dames. Marlon Brando‘s sister, Jocelyn Brando is the type of girl you marry and wish you could live happily ever after with. Chris Alcaide is a bodyguard / possible boy toy for Alexander Scourby’s Lasagna or is it Lagana, and I’m still wondering why he’s wearing PJ’s and sleeping so close to Lagana? There’s these loco WWII vets who are ready to throw down. Plus, we have a case of a cop’s suicide, and his “grieving” widow. Hell yes!
Lang turns every interior space into an enclosure, even the absurdly idyllic home scenes. I can only think of a few moments that take place outdoors, but even those involve confinement: the wife trapped in the car, the roof of Lee Marvin‘s penthouse, Ford talking to the woman from the auto shop through the fence. Few films create so much awareness of the walls, that there’s really nowhere for these people to go and nothing for them to do other than move to the next case with the same fury fueling them
What hurts The Big Heat, in the long run, is the entire predictability of its plot with almost every plot point being expected, but this noir is still so well made, so well directed by Fritz Lang and so well acted that they managed to lift the material to much greater heights. I loved its emotional approach with a couple of beautiful and moving scenes, but the highlight are its memorable characters and most especially its incredibly dark approach with a couple of unforgettable brutal scenes that are not excessive but help raise the stakes significantly.
Audio commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman • Tony Rayns on Fritz Lang and ‘The Big Heat’: a newly filmed appreciation and analysis by the film historian • Martin Scorsese on The Big Heat (2009) • Michael Mann on The Big Heat (2009) • Isolated score • Original theatrical trailer • Image gallery • Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by critic Glenn Kenny, an archival interview with Fritz Lang, a critical anthology, and a look at the film’s Production Code history.
Film Noir, Crime, Thriller | USA, 1953 | 15 | 27th March 2017 (UK) | Powerhouse Films | Dir.Fritz Lang | Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando | Buy:The Big Heat (Dual Format Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Front is a film from director Martin Ritt and socially conscious writer, Walter Bernstein. It sees auteur Woody Allen as an actor for hire, in his straight(ish) debut, playing – somewhat ironically – a front for hire for blacklisted communist sympathising writers of 50s America.
Allen’s character Howard Prince may come from the pen of Bernstein but it’s easy to view it as an extension of the familiar Allen persona. Prince is a wisecracking cowardly loser, distinctly small time. Through accepting the adulation for better men who must remain in the shadows on account of the paranoid and ignorant McCarthy witch hunts this small time chancer initially becomes even smaller, before unexpectedly shining nobly in the final reel.
It’s a well crafted tale of the rise, fall and rise again from Ritt and Bernstein that sees Prince – and no doubt possibly some viewers – have their eyes opened to the injustice of the time. Mostel’s character in particular – whose fall, seen through the example of him taking a significant cut in wages to perform at one club, was based on fact-an extra added dimension of poignancy with the knowledge that he faced such an ordeal in reality.
•Audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman and actress Andrea Marcovicci • Behind The Front-an interview with the acclaimed director of photography Michael Chapman • Isolated score • Image gallery • Original theatrical trailer • Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by professor Gabriel Miller, author of The Films of Martin Ritt: Fanfare for the Common Man and archival interviews with Woody Allen, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and director Martin Ritt.
comedy, Drama |USA, 1977 | 12 | 27th March 2017 (UK) | Powerhouse Films | Dir.Martin Ritt | Woody Allen, Zero Mostel,Michael Murphy | Buy:The Front (Dual Format Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]