Fat City (1972)

“You gotta wanna win so bad you can taste it.”

Fat City Poster

Synopsis:
A down-on-his-luck ex-boxer (Stacy Keach) encourages a talented teen (Jeff Bridges) to pursue a career in the ring, and eventually finds himself fighting again — for better or for worse.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “effective sleeper” (directed by John Huston) isn’t “about the glamorous, publicized world of title bouts and million dollar purses”, instead focusing on “the armpit of the sport, where washed-up, injured, or untalented pugs fight it out for peanuts in prelims in dingy arenas”. Indeed, boxing merely serves as the backdrop for what is essentially a character study of a loser living in a “seedy world of people with smashed dreams and opportunities lost, who not only feed off each other but infest any new blood that happens along.” Huston’s gritty landscape, as filmed by DP Conrad Hall and conceived by screenwriter Leonard Gardner (who adapted his own novel), is bleakly authentic, showing the menial lives of unskilled workers (Keach picks onions), and clearly demonstrating why men would risk their health and safety for the allure of earning a few dollars in the ring. Peary accurately notes that “Keach gives a memorable performance”, but that Susan Tyrrell “almost steals the picture as [his] whining girlfriend”; when Keach’s character takes an interest in this pathetically obnoxious barfly, we finally understand the depths to which he’s sunk. Interestingly, Keach and Bridges (fine though undistinguished in an early supporting role) don’t interact much after their initial meeting; Huston and Gardner seem more interested in telling their parallel tales, hinting at the unending cycle of poverty and desperation that fuels the dreams of so many.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stacy Keach as Billy Tully (nominated by Peary as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book)
    Fat City Keach
  • Susan Tyrrell as Oma
    Fat City Tyrrell
  • Nicholas Colasanto as Ruben
    Fat City Colasanto
  • A refreshingly authentic look at the world of low-stakes boxing
    Fat City Boxing
  • Conrad Hall’s naturalistic cinematography
    Fat City Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a unique character study by a master director.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Fat City (1972)”

  1. A must!

    Securely among Huston’s many masterpieces, though not often talked about.

    From what is quoted, Peary seems to get this one about right. Overall, with Huston’s assured guidance, this is Keach’s film all the way. I’ve always liked Tyrrell (esp. in ‘Bad’) – few do debauched/slovenly better and, here, Huston has honed her to perfection; and I even think Bridges does a great job with what he’s given. But Keach is simply remarkable. A rich performance.

    DP Hall’s capture of the film is spot-on.

    Not at all uplifting, really. But speaks volumes about the human condition – the kind of thing Huston mastered.

    The last scene may seem like it leaves the film unresolved. But it doesn’t.

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