Monday, November 30, 2009

Film Review: FAT CITY (1972, John Huston)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Stacy Keach (ROADGAMES, ESCAPE FROM L.A., W., LUTHER), Jeff Bridges (TRON, CUTTER'S WAY), Candy Clark (THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, AMERICAN GRAFFITI), Susan Tyrrell (BIG-TOP PEE WEE, FLESH + BLOOD, ROCKULA).  Based on the novel by Leonard Gardner.  Featuring the song "Help Me Make It Through the Night," by Kris Kristofferson.  Directed by John Huston (THE MALTESE FALCON, THE MISFITS, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE).
Tag-line: "The surprise hit of this year's Cannes Film Festival!"
Best one-liner:  "You can count on me!  You...can...count....on me!"

Once again I have been floored by the venerable Mr. Huston. FAT CITY doesn't present fights between formidable competitors; it presents wearied, battered husks of men who stumble and swipe at each other haphazardly...
I guess there was a dream at the end of the line once, but it now it's all so hazy they can't quite remember. And to say that it's better when they're not in the ring is to delude yourself: if it's not swigging hooch out of a brown paper bag while doing migrant work or (literally) beating your brains out on a jukebox, it's passing out at a dingy rat-trap in your tighty-whities, debating whether or not it's worth it to get out of bed. 

Stacy Keach is a washed-up fighter in a world without meaning. Huston strips him down to nothing- a tragic loser with a hare-lip- and from the nothingness, Keach creates a hopeful, vital man eternally numbed by booze and misfortune. This film is probably the most brilliant illustration of broken dreams and the "I'll do great things...tomorrow" mentality that I've ever seen. But this is not an exercise in building up characters just to bring them down- Huston languidly lays it out with nothing but humanity and pathos.

And I don't believe anyone has ever directed 'drunk' better than Huston (UNDER THE VOLCANO, THE MISFITS). None of this 'over the top' shit. 
These people seem LOADED for real, and they clash with the loudmouthed desperation and mutual self-destructiveness of flailing, blinded junkyard dogs.
 Susan Tyrrell delivers, without exaggeration, one of the finest performances in film. She's a sloppy drunk, a sad puppy, and a raving lunatic wrapped in one, trying to find the meaning of her wrecked life at the bottom of a bottle. 

Jeff Bridges and Candy Clark play the youngsters, about to take an unfortunate trip through the same meat-grinder.
 It's a vicious circle with no solution, short of a reinvention of what it means to be human. Bleak, grimy, and shockingly REAL.  One of the great films.
Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note:  It must be said that Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER would not and could not exist without FAT CITY.


pachuco hands said...

I love this movie too.

Sean Gill said...

Glad to see another fan out there, and you picked some great screencaps! The sheer humanity in this film is staggering, and I'm astonished that it never really took hold of its rightful place at the forefront of the American film canon. Possibly Huston's greatest film- which is saying a LOT.

Will Errickson said...

I discovered this great film a few years ago as well. Love to get my hands on the original novel!

Sean Gill said...


Definitely love this flick and dug your take on it. Would love to read the novel, too. Lemme know if you ever get your hands on it!