An unremittingly downbeat – but tremendously moving – portrait of the bottom rung of the boxing circuit, where perennial losers slug it out for chump change. Stacy Keach is Tully, over-the-hill but still plodding on; Jeff Bridges is his discovery, the not-so-great white hope, Ernie. Evocatively photographed by Conrad Hall in the hot sunshine of Stockton, California, it’s arguably Huston’s finest film (which is saying something for a man whose career includes The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Man Who Would be King). Huston can also be seen, as an actor, in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974).
“Fat City, John Huston’s punishing 1972 adaptation of Leonard Gardner’s 1969 brass-knuckled sucker punch of a novel, [is] something of a miracle. It’s so contrary to expectation that it’s better to call it the antiboxing film. There are no champions, only losers on the margins of a castoff society. Characters imagine boxing glory but can’t overcome their own base urges or interior conflicts long enough to earn it. When they do climb into the ring, it’s only because they’re tired of topping onions in sweltering heat for pennies. Fighting is the best worst option, but even that pays a pittance.
Only in the upside-down world of New Hollywood could a film as jaundiced and cynical about pugilism find big-studio support (in this case from Columbia). And naturally, it flopped with audiences. But critics loved it, and over the years its supporters have helped turn Fat City into a cult classic… Fat City has more to say than ever, and it remains an essential, unsparing corrective in an increasingly maudlin genre.” Dante A. Ciampaglia, The Paris Review
The movie’s bleak, but it’s funnier than most comedies, and it suggests that life’s toughness doesn’t preclude joyfulness.
Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
Huston and his performers give the material an elating, transcendental verve, especially during the sequences in which words fail the characters and interminable silences take over.
Keith Uhlich, Time Out
Ray Stark, John Huston
Conrad L. Hall