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  Fat City Kick A Man When He's Down
Year: 1972
Director: John Huston
Stars: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark, Nicholas Colasanto, Art Aragon, Curtis Cokes, Sixto Rodriguez, Billy Walker, Wayne Mahan, Ruben Navarro
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Stockton, California, Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) lies on the bed in his boarding house room and picks up a cigarette, but then cannot find any matches. Seeing as how he's now up, he pulls on his clothes and wanders down to the street, has a brainwave and goes back to fetch his boxing equipment. Tully used to be a boxer, nothing major but he had his share of small time success, and although it's been a year and a half since his last fight, he still has a hankering to return to the ring. When he arrives at the gym, there's only one other person there, Ernie (Jeff Bridges), an eighteen-year-old who harbours vague dreams of a boxing career. But he'd be better off out of it, if Tully is any example...

Director John Huston used to be a boxer himself, and working from the scrpt by the original novel's author Leonard Gardner in Fat City he exhibited a true feeling for the seediness and sadness of the lower rungs of the sport's ladder. As with most movies on this subject, this is keen to examine the more depressing selling-your-soul aspect, but it's so low key - there are only about two boxing matches featured - a better way to describe it would be a tale of the hopeless losers who populate it. This is no Rocky, where the over-the-hill hero wins out against the odds and regains his self respect, as Tully's self-respect deserted him about the time his wife did, this is about a man with no real future and, to be honest, no real past either.

And he's going to drag Ernie down with him. After he spars a little with the boy at the gym, he persuades him to take up the sport professionally, when really he has no spectacular talent. This doesn't deter Tully's ex-manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto), who is optimistic to a fault and as much of a no-hoper as his charges. Always on the lookout for new blood, he takes Ernie under his wing, this despite the fact that in his practice bout to demonstrate his skills, Ernie was just about soundly thrashed. There is humour to all this, but it's of the pained variety rather than a knee-slapping "look at the deadbeats"; nevertheless Huston remains sympathetic to his characters and ensures that we do as well.

The women in the two protagonists' lives also make an impression, being as they are played by two of the quirkiest American actresses of the seventies. If you think Candy Clark, as Ernie's girlfriend Faye, is idiosyncratic, that's nothing compared to Susan Tyrrell's Oscar-nominated turn as Oma, whose performance seems less like acting and more like letting her personal hangups dominate the proceedings: she's impossible to forget here. When Oma's boyfriend Earl (Curtis Cokes) is arrested, she joins up with Tully so they can support each other and feel sorry for themselves, and in truth Huston can err on the side of allowing his cast to overindulge their peculiarities - see the scene where Tully cooks Oma dinner. And the tone is nigh-overwhelmingly depressing, verging on a wallow, so it's fortunate that Keach and Bridges, who could represent two stages in each other's lives, are so deeply convincing in their characters' failures and hollow victories.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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