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Crying Boy

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Paramount's answer to The French Connection (1971) reteams Lady Sings the Blues director Sidney J. Furie with leading man Billy Dee Williams for the tale of a CIA op who goes rogue after the heroin-related death of his teenage daughter. Bucking a system that too often turns a blind eye to the drug trade and offers recidivists a revolving door back onto the streets, Williams' embittered Nick Allen slips the proprietary grasp of his agency director (Norman Burton, fresh from playing Felix Leiter in Diamonds Are Forever [1971]) to assemble his own strike force to take down the "elegant, rich Frenchmen" distributing smack from Marseilles. Proving himself as manipulative a bastard as his employers, Allen employs blackmail and psychology to cashier an army sharpshooter turned university prof (Paul Hampton, star of David Cronenberg's Shivers [1976]), a drug-dependent callgirl (Gwen Welles, warming up for better roles in Robert Altman's California Split [1974] and Nashville [1975]), a pair of married ex-cons (Sid Melton and Janet Brandt) mourning the death of their junkie son, a cynical Beltway narcotics cop (Warren J. Kemmerling, later in Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977]), and a former Navy engineer (Richard Pryor) reeling from the rape and murder of his wife, and puts his team through their paces while staying clear of the crosshairs of Mutt & Jeff assassins Todd Martin and Zooey Hall, who have been assigned to take Allen down rather than let him embarrass the US government.

Canadian Sidney Furie had turned his hand to socially-conscious dramas after his emigration to England, among them The Boys (1962) and The Leather Boys (1966), before attracting the attention of Hollywood with The Ipcress File (1965). Furie's adaptation of the espionage novel by Len Deighton stood in stark and refreshingly small scale contrast to the increasingly preposterous James Bond franchise and changing up genre tropes seems very much on his mind with Hit!. The casting of Williams and Pryor as bruthas-in-arms suggests a blaxploitation romp on par with the vengeance-minded Black Gunn (1972) and Coffy (1973) but Hit! thwarts those expectations, etching Nick Allen as more a man of the hotel suite than of the streets. The film takes its sweet time delivering justice to the wrongdoers, spending sixty minutes (out of one hundred and thirty four) on Williams scooping up conscripts and nearly another hour of the team training in a Canadian fishing village. Though the script is credited to The Thomas Crown Affair (1967) and Bullit (1968 scribe Alan Trustman and David M. Wolf (Trustman's partner as well on Ivan Passer's Crime and Passion and Richard C. Sarafian's The Next Man [both 1976], much of the dialogue here seems improvised, particularly Pryor's scenes with Williams and Welles; the comic tack robs the narrative of a conventional sense of thriller momentum but gives the viewer a sense of the tedium of inherent in revenge planning. Shot by John Alonzo on the build-up to bigger things with Chinatown (1974), Hit! has a pleasing street-level aesthetic, reflective of the cinematographer's background in documentaries.

Olive Films' Region 1 DVD of this Paramount release is characteristically barebones and to the point, offering just the feature and a scattering of chapter stops. The film's original widescreen framing is preserved at 2.35:1 and the accompanying image is hagged by more than its share of film grain, though colors remain serviceably vivid and flesh tones lifelike. The mono soundtrack is fine and delivers Lalo Schifrin's punchy but disposable score with the requisite verve. Sections in the film acted in French are translated into English, with the white sous-titres appearing for the most part within the black bars but suffering throughout from more than their share of spelling gaffes.

For more information about Hit!, visit Olive Films. To order Hit!, go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith