Saturday, June 25, 2016

Three The Hard Way

Probably the greatest film ever to end on a freeze frame of a burning car, THREE THE HARD WAY is a milestone among 1970s action films for bringing together three of the decade’s most popular blaxploitation stars: Fred Williamson (BLACK CAESAR), Jim Brown (SLAUGHTER), and Jim Kelly (ENTER THE DRAGON).

Unsteadily directed by SUPER FLY’s Gordon Parks Jr., a photographer and film cameraman who made only four films before his tragic 1979 death in a plane crash, this Allied Artists release is a wild, action-packed blast that includes dummy deaths, a burning man, several exploding cars, nudity, a sense of humor, and songs by the Impressions.

Credit frequent HAWAII FIVE-O writers Eric Bercovici and Jerry Ludwig for the outrageously campy premise that would have fit perfectly into a Marvel superhero comic book of that period. A wealthy white supremacist named Mr. Feather (the incomparably fey Jay Robinson) plans to exterminate America’s black population by poisoning the water supply of several major cities with a deadly chemical that affects only African-Americans. Record producer Jimmy Lait (Brown), public relations man Jagger Daniels (Williamson), and karate teacher Mister Keyes (Kelly) discover Feather’s plan after Jimmy’s girlfriend Wendy (Sheila Frazier) is kidnapped, and they join forces to destroy it.

Bercovici, Ludwig, and Parks give their stars properly heroic introductions that show off their particular skill sets in the most glamorous manner. After Brown, Williamson, and Kelly split up to damage Feather’s operation in solo adventures — again, tried-and-true comic book plotting — the three team up for a Bondian climax to shoot down an army of henchmen and blow up the villain’s compound. Hal Needham’s Stunts Unlimited team don machine guns and red berets in a valiant attempt to dodge the heroes’ fists, feet, bullets, and bombs. Though THREE THE HARD WAY has too little story for its 89 minutes and too little budget for its ambitious storyline, action fans get more than their money’s worth with a high body count, imaginative stunts, and super-cool good guys to root for.

Rising above the typical urban fireworks in its plot and Robinson’s campy melodramatics, THREE THE HARD WAY also features a bizarre scene where Williamson extracts information from Feather’s henchman (Howard Platt) by siccing a trio of sassy, sweaty, and topless dominatrixes (one of whom is played by busy Chinese actress Irene Tsu) on him. Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER) appears briefly as an ineffectual cop, and look closely for THE BIG BIRD CAGE star Roberta Collins and a practically unrecognizable Corbin Bernsen (his father Harry produced this film and the unofficial followup, TAKE A HARD RIDE). Kelly’s first scene is a cool karate fight against corrupt cops on a very windy day in New York City, and Brown and Williamson fight some punks on Chicago’s LaSalle/Van Buren Blue Line platform.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Howard (SANFORD AND SON; THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) Platt and Irene Tsu. And along with them, Alex Rocco. I usually don't go in for "adrenaline movies," but that kind of supporting cast makes this one kind of tempting.