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Film opens up with shots of the rougher parts of Stockton California. Skid row. We end up in a hotel flop with a man lying on a bed in his underwear. He grabs a cigarette but can’t find a match. That gets him moving. Next scene he’s in a gym for a workout. Doesn’t look like he’s been in a gym for a while. He pulls out a couple pairs of boxing gloves, spars with a young guy who is shadow boxing.. We find out that he’s an ex pro fighter, Billy Tully. Tully gets winded fast, pulls a muscle. He befriends the kid, Ernie Munger, tells him that he has some talent and to look up his old manager.
Next scene we’re in the bar with Billy where he spends most of his time. He runs into a bar fly, Oma and her boyfriend Earl. They exchange drunk talk. Next morning Billy is out picking onions for minimum wage. Day labor and drinking are his life. The young fighter he met has looked up his ex- manager, Rueben, and is now pursuing a boxing career. Billy hooks up with Oma, and decides to get in shape and start fighting again. He goes back to his old manager, Ruben, who quickly sets up a feature fight for Billy who can still draw a few people in. Things go cow shit real quick with old resentments, booze feeding the fire.
This film takes you to the other side of the tracks. Flop hotels, bars, dives, booze, low level boxing, day labor, lost dreams, resentment etc. No flash and dash here. It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s as real as a film can get. No bullshit in this one. John Huston pulls off a fantastic piece of film making and gives us a ride into the underbelly of down and out America. He makes a beautiful film out of Leonard Gardner’s story. Conrad L Hall captures all the realism on camera.
Performances are outstanding. From all the supporting actors up to the leads. Nicholas Colasanto as Rueben and Art Aragon as Babe are perfect as a couple of low rent boxing lifers. Huston sprinkled the film with ex- boxers and it gives it an authentic touch. Jeff Bridges is perfect as the young hopeful boxer, playing him with a subtle touch, no cliches. Candy Clark does the same kind of work as his girlfriend. But it’s the two leads that really put the kick into this one. Susan Tyrrell is as close as you get to perfect casting. You buy her 100% as a lush. No acting here. Just truthful and believable. She is an acting treasure. Stacy Keach as Tully gives a performance that is second to none. Nothing over the top. A real guy who feels life has dealt him a bad hand. Keach plays him with some quiet strength still inside but it is being drowned out by alcohol, lost dreams and resentment. A CB hall of fame job.
CB did not feel cheated after sitting through this one. It’s one of his alltime favorite movies. It’s so real you can feel, taste and smell it it. Realistic slice of life. From the opening sequence with a Kris Kristofferson song to the end, you will feel that you have visited Fat City. Where dreamers live.
In the words of Billy Tully, “Before you get rolling you make a B-line for the drain”