• John Huston’s bleak Fat City opens with longer take observing Stacy Keach (as Tully) in his depressing, tiny jail cell of an apartment. This is Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and in that Huston is telling us all about this character from this shot without dialogue. He cannot find a cigarette, the place is a disaster, there is bourbon on the nightstand and holes in his underwear. Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” makes for a perfect accompaniment.

The arrangement above is just one example of Richard Sylbert’s work as the production design of Fat City. That profession is best known when a film has well manicured and controlled environments (think Wes Anderson or Douglas Sirk)- Sylbert can do that, too (Chinatown, Dick Tracy, The Cotton Club, Rosemary’s Baby)- this is a different choice- and it fits the material perfectly. The work here is worthy of praise.

  • The writing is from Leonard Gardner based off his own novel. When Tully meets Ernie (the young, handsome Jeff Bridges)—Ernie says, “I saw you fight once.” Tully retorts, “Did I win?”… “No” says Ernie. This down and out mood piece fits perfectly in early 1970s American cinema. There are details so rich—like when a fighter hands his bloody trunks to another fighter after his fight (both are trained by the same manager- all on the lower wrung of society).

Keach walks away with the performance of the film- but Susan Tyrrell as Oma is a close second. She’s a barfly (like Keach’s Tully), slurring. She falls over in the bar. She is utterly convincing- it does not look like she is acting at all. She resembles sort of a slightly less attractive version of Ellen Burstyn. Think of the kind of captivating big performance Karen Black gives (again- fitting of this era) in 1970’s Five Easy Pieces.

  • Keach plays an ex-fighter—but he looks like Karl Malden- not Marlon Brando.

Piece work outside in the orchards- this is the California of Steinbeck.

  • Another in a long line of Huston two-handers- somewhere between The African Queen in 1951 and The Man Who Would be King in 1975.

Conrad Hall is the director of photography and this is excellent work from him. It is not traditionally pretty- just like the production design. The yellow hazy hue that pervades is a character in the film.

  • Nicholas Colasanto plays Ruben the trainer—he’s also in Raging Bull. He could be doing stand up comedy with some of his schtick in this film.
  • The arc of the two characters is masterfully orchestrated as well- these characters meet by chance (separated by maybe only 10 years- but a lot of milage) to begin the film, and meet by chance to end the film as well- at a crossroads.
  • A freeze frame at the coffee shop catching Tully in mid thought
  • Highly Recommend- top 10 of the year quality.