Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Huston|
|Produced by||Ray Stark
|Written by||Leonard Gardner|
|Music by||Kenneth Hall|
|Cinematography||Conrad L. Hall|
|Editing by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||100 minutes|
Tyrrell received an Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as the alcoholic, world weary Oma.
Billy Tully (Keach), a boxer past his prime, goes to a Stockton, California gym to get back into shape and spars with Ernie Munger (Bridges), an eighteen-year-old he meets there. Seeing potential in the youngster, Tully suggests Munger look up his former manager and trainer, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto). Munger takes his advice. Later, Tully tells combative white barfly Oma (Tyrrell) and her easygoing black boyfriend Earl (Curtis Cokes) how impressed he is with Munger. Inspired, Tully decides to get back into boxing himself.
Tully's life has been a mess ever since his wife left him. He drinks too much, cannot hold down a job, and has to pick crops to make ends meet. He moves in with Oma after Earl is sent to prison for a few months. Their relationship is rocky and Tully eventually breaks it off.
Munger loses his first fight, but perseveres. Unlike Tully, he does not let setbacks get the better of him. The young man gets pressured into marriage by Faye (Candy Clark) and soon has a baby on the way.
In his first bout back, Tully narrowly defeats tough, well-respected Mexican boxer Lucero (Sixto Rodriguez), but gets discouraged when he gets only $100 for it. He breaks up with Ruben (whom he still blames for the loss of a big fight long ago) and goes back to his old ways. He tries to make up with Oma, only to find her back with Earl.
Later, Munger is returning home after a win and sees a drunk Tully. Munger tries to ignore him, but when Tully asks him to have a drink with him, he reluctantly agrees to coffee. After a short while, Munger gets up to leave. Tully asks him to stay awhile longer. Munger agrees, but the two men have nothing to talk about, and the film ends in awkward silence.
Like the novel, the film was set in Stockton, California and shot mostly on location there. All of the original skid row area depicted in the novel was demolished (West End Redevelopment) from 1965-69. Most of the skid row scenes were filmed in the outer fringe of the original skid row area which was torn down a year after Fat City was filmed, in order to make way for the construction of the Crosstown Freeway, aka "Ort Lofthus Freeway".
In a 1969 interview with LIFE Magazine, Leonard Gardner explained the meaning of the title of his novel.
"Lots of people have asked me about the title of my book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no one is ever going to reach."
The film premiered in the United States on July 26, 1972.
After he had a string of box office flops, John Huston quickly rebounded with this film, which opened to tremendous praise and good business: after this film, he was sought for more movies as director and star. Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, liked the film and John Huston's direction. He wrote, "This is grim material but Fat City is too full of life to be as truly dire as it sounds. Ernie and Tully, along with Oma (Susan Tyrrell), the sherry-drinking barfly Tully shacks up with for a while, the small-time fight managers, the other boxers and assorted countermen, upholsterers, and lettuce pickers whom the film encounters en route, are presented with such stunning and sometimes comic accuracy that Fat City transcends its own apparent gloom."
Roger Ebert made the case for it as one of John Huston's best films. He also appreciated the performances. Ebert wrote, "[Huston] treats [the story] with a level, unsentimental honesty and makes it into one of his best films...[and] the movie's edges are filled with small, perfect character performances."
J. Hoberman, of the Village Voice, liked the film and wrote, "The movie is crafty work and very much a show. In one way or another, right down to the percussively abrupt open ending, it's all about being hammered."
Film critic Dennis Schwartz also liked the film and wrote, "The downbeat sports drama is a marvelous understated character study of the marginalized leading desperate lives, where they have left themselves no palpable way out. The stunning photography by Conrad Hall keeps things looking realistic."
Under the then-extant rules, Stacy Keach should have been awarded Best Actor honors from the New York Film Critics Circle for his portrayal of Tully, as it required only a plurality of the vote. Keach was the top vote-getter for Best Actor. At the time, the NYCC was second in prestige only to the Academy Awards and was a major influence on subsequent Oscar nominations. A vocal faction of the NYFCC, dismayed by the rather low percentage of votes that would have given Keach the award, successfully demanded a rule change so that the winner would have to obtain a majority. In subsequent balloting, Keach failed to win a majority of the vote, and he lost ground to his main rival, Marlon Brando in The Godfather. However, Brando could not gain a majority either. A compromise candidate, Laurence Olivier in Sleuth eventually was awarded Best Actor honors. Ironically, director John Huston initially wanted Brando to play the role of Tully. When Brando informed Huston repeatedly that he needed some more time to think about it, Huston finally came to the conclusion that the star wasn't really interested and looked out for another actor until he finally cast the then relatively unknown Keach.
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