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  Hit! For Every Crime There's A Solution
Year: 1973
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Stars: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, Paul Hampton, Gwen Welles, Warren J. Kemmerling, Janet Brandt, Sid Melton, Zooey Hall, Todd Martin, Norman Burton, Jenny Astruc, Yves Barsacq, Jean-Claude Bercq, Henri Cogan, Paul Collet, Robert Lombard, Noble Willingham
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nick Allen (Billy Dee Williams) is a federal agent who has recently been bereaved when his fifteen-year-old daughter took heroin with an older boyfriend and died of an overdose in his car. This loss has left Nick hollow inside, but he feels he has to do something, and starts with tracking down the pusher who sold the boyfriend the drugs, who he proceeds to beat to a pulp in the back of his car, but the man protests it wasn't his fault, he is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. Nick actually pauses at this, and thinks it over - if this lowlife he has just battered was not to blame, then who was? Who is really behind the drugs trade that killed his daughter? Should he go after them?

You had better believe it, in this, a ludicrously overlong action thriller that made a lot of space for character business, before revealing its hand in the final half hour and making your patient wait for something to become apparent well worth it. It was directed by Sidney J. Furie, who was not a critical favourite thanks to his creativity with the camera: this was regarded as a subterfuge to hide the fact he wasn't as adept as he would like to appear, which was unfair considering one of his best films was The Ipcress File, and that featured the camera all over the place but still managed to be a minor classic of the ever-popular sixties spy genre. This was more like a blaxploitation flick, however.

Or at least that was how it was treated, for any film with two African American stars in the top-billed roles was going to be labelled that way. Yet that was not telling the whole story, for the cast was more diverse than that as Nick assembled his de facto gang to counter the efforts of the criminals who ran the heroin trade back in Marseilles. Yes, we were in The French Connection territory to an extent, as Williams was essentially the maverick lawman tackling the bad guys in his own uncompromising way much as Gene Hackman had as Popeye Doyle, except of course they were two very different stars who went about their craft in very different styles, Williams far more smooth and suave.

So suave was he that he often seemed out of place in the movies which required him to be gritty, more at home as a romantic ideal for his female fans, but this picture proved that he had it in him to serve up a surprisingly resonant performance should he put his mind to it and not coast through the role as if he were picking up a paycheque for one of his television commercials. He was at somewhere near his best in Hit!, turning those good looks into something more enigmatic, at least until his plan was laid bare, though before that you may be tempted to wonder why you were bothering. It was Williams who answered that, notably in a big speech which enquired of the other characters why they should care about junkies. This was centred around Gwen Welles, who played precisely that.

But she wasn't a major star, more of a cult performer in the seventies if anything; Richard Pryor was, however, a big celebrity, and not only among black audiences. Furie gave him the space to improvise his dialogue, though whether that was because he recognised Pryor was effective at it or whether the comedian couldn't remember those lines in the first place was up for debate. He was funny, though, which was bizarre in a story that saw his welder trying to avenge the death of his wife, another reason why the film did not quite settle for a long while in a well-over two hours-long running time. Yet stick with it and the scheme to really get even and shake up the drugs trade paid off in dividends: you would either find it laughably simplistic for you imagine Hydra-like, cutting off a bunch of heads merely sprouted more in their places, or satisfying as the miscreants got what was coming to them in just desserts. It made no secret of appealing to the reptile brain of us all, but it was the redeeming of the movie, and you could see why its fans regard it as underrated. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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