An alcoholic boxer (Stacy Keach), a young idealistic kid (Jeff Bridges) and a lonely woman (Susan Tyrrell) paint a portrait of people who have hit the ropes but refuse to abandon their dreams.

Huston classic pulls no punches

A sour drama about down and out boxers, this sweet and sad character study was one of John Huston’s best pictures. First released in 1972, it stars Stacey Keach as Tully, a punch-drunk slugger, aged well beyond his thirty-years, who wants once more to be a contender. Between eking out a living working menial labour in the California share crops around Stockton and a getting a flogging during his workouts, Keach battles the bottle and his tortured girlfriend, Oma, played brilliantly by Susan Tyrrell. He meets an 18year-old, Ernie (Jeff Bridges), a naïve and promising boxing hopeful whose dreams of glory in the ring are tempered by his co-dependent relationship with girlfriend, Faye (Candy Clark).

Based on the novel by Leonard Gardner, who wrote the screenplay, the action is split between these two main characters, who, in fact, rarely meet. No buddy movie, Fat City, is a rather literary conceit with an obvious dramatic irony; we appreciate the fact that Keach’s life anticipates the future for Bridges. Still, what’s good about the movie is its lack of sentiment, its clear-eyed view concerning the realities of boxing (and by extension all pro sport) for its capacity to exploit and corrupt and the pathos of folks who’s choices are limited. In its way, it’s a sorrowful hymn to those who are prepared to surrender their dignity to take a chance at a dream that was perhaps never possible, and yet its the yearning in that hope that keeps 'em alive.

When critics and historians talk about the way movies changed in the '70s, in the way they looked and felt, Fat City often comes up. I think cinematographers, directors, and designers were readying to take chances. Here, Conrad Hall’s dark and unromantic cinematography is poetic, true and uncompromising. He turns the film’s settings – back streets, grimy apartments, smokey bars, ugly boxing venues – into real spaces where you can almost feel the fear and smell the sweat.

Huston is in no hurry with the pacing and the movie doesn’t rely on plot mechanics, suspense set-ups or formal tricks. It begins, we spend time with these characters and it ends. Like so many of the best and most original films of the '70s, it gives off the magical feeling that the characters live on beyond the final fade out.


1 hour 40 min