Cast & Crew
In Stockton, California, faded former boxer Billy Tully visits a YMCA gymnasium where he is impressed by the youth and ability of eighteen-year-old Ernie Munger. After sparing with Ernie briefly, Billy pulls a muscle from lack of conditioning, but advises Ernie to see his manager, Ruben Luna, at the Lido gym. At a nearby bar, Billy listens to the discourse of a drunken woman, Oma, who is accompanied by her taciturn black boyfriend Earl, then informs them how affected he is by Ernie's potential in the ring. Taking Billy's advice, Ernie visits Ruben at the Lido where the older manager acknowledges that Billy was his best fighter until his marriage ruined his confidence. Ruben adds that when Billy began losing, his wife left him, sending him into a personal spiral of drunken irresponsibility. After Ernie spars with one of Ruben's pupils, Wes, Ruben realizes that a white boxer will be a large draw among largely Hispanic and black competitors and agrees to coach him. Meanwhile, Billy takes on numerous low-paying jobs, including joining migrant workers to pick fruits and vegetables from dawn until dusk. While training with Ruben, Ernie becomes involved with a young girl named Faye, but is wary of her aggressive romantic overtures. Some time later, Ruben and his assistant Babe, drive Ernie, Wes and Buford, a fifteen-year-old fighter passing as an eighteen-year-old, to their first bouts. Ernie receives a broken nose and is technically knocked out in the second round, Buford endures a harsh beating that leaves his face mangled and Wes also loses. Back in town at a seedy bar, Billy runs into Oma who confesses that she is depressed because Earl has been arrested and jailed on assault charges. Drunkenly taken with Oma's volatility, Billy expresses his attraction to her and insists that she can count on him. Shortly thereafter, Billy moves in with Oma. In Ernie's next bout he is knocked out twenty-three seconds into the first round and has no recollection of the fight. Later, Faye reveals her concern that she might be pregnant and although Ernie expresses misgivings about committing to any future relationship, he urges her to see a doctor. A little later, Ruben meets Babe at a diner and relates his great disappointment that Ernie has married Faye. Some time later, Billy returns to Oma's apartment to relate that there has been no work from the canneries and as he was fired from his previous job he is considering returning to fighting. Oma advises Billy to clean himself up and attempts to get him to wear some of Earl's flashy clothes, but Billy refuses. Taking another job in the fruit fields, Billy listens to the other workers complain how difficult it is to find women who will support them. One evening at a bar with Oma, a fellow fighter and his date, an intoxicated Billy laments that Ruben betrayed him by sending him to a major bout below the border alone, knowing his opponent was crooked and used illegal fighting methods. One day at the early morning picker selection, Billy is surprised to run into Ernie who confesses he needs to make money to support Faye and their soon-to-be-born child. Billy says picking fruit is a reliable way to keep fit and Ernie admits he intends to resume fighting, which inspires Billy to do the same. The pair returns to the Lido gym and Billy repays Ruben a small debt he has owed him for nearly two years. After several days, Ruben meets with a contact to arrange a tune-up fight for Billy, but claiming that Billy will not draw a crowd, the promoter will only offer a bout with an aging Mexican fighter, Lucero. At Oma's, Billy grows annoyed over her continued drunkenness and upon discovering that Earl is out of jail and has met with her, demands to know why she did not confide in him. When Oma alternately lashes out at Billy and refuses to eat the meal he has cooked her, Billy leaves in frustration and goes to a bar where, after getting drunk, he calls Ruben. The manager picks Billy up at the bar where the fighter bemoans Oma's effect on him and that he will turn thirty in four days. Despite his concern at boxing the still-potent Lucero, Billy accepts the bout. The day of the fight, Lucero, stiff and in continual pain from a lifetime of boxing, arrives alone and checks into a cheap hotel. At the fight that evening, Ernie, Faye and others wish Billy luck. In the ring Billy and Lucero approach each other warily with carefully aimed blows. Billy is knocked to his knees and dazed in the first round, but continues matching the older fighter punch for punch. In round two, the fighting becomes grimmer and although Lucero crashes to the mat after taking a solid blow from Billy, he gets to his feet before the end of the countdown. The fight resumes for some moments before the match is stopped and Billy declared the winner on a technical knockout. Later, while a groomed, polished, if still stiff Lucero departs the way he came, an exhausted Billy learns from Ruben that after covering his advances and Ruben's take, he is due only one hundred dollars from the fight. Furious, Billy abandons Ruben and returns to Oma's where he finds Earl. Earl reminds him that he still pays the rent and although he chats politely about boxing, he assures Billy that Oma does not wish to see him again. Many weeks later, Ernie sees a drunken, disheveled Billy on the street and tries to avoid him, but Billy insists on speaking with him, then invites him for coffee at a diner. Ernie accepts and reveals he is returning from a fight that he won. Stung, Billy confides that he has always suspected Ernie was soft and predicts he will eventually prove to be. Billy then looks at the elderly man serving them and contemptuously observes the man lives a wasted life, but then wonders if he is happy. Uncomfortable, Ernie rises to go, but Billy asks him to stay and talk. Ernie sits down and the two men remain at the counter in silence.
Billy "sugar" James
Richard M. Rubin
Best Supporting Actress
Fat City stars Stacy Keach as Billy Tully, an alcoholic boxer who's desperately trying for a small-time comeback in the sleepy-bordering-on-depressing town of Stockton, California. Tully's sidekick is Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges), a naïve younger man who, quite unwisely, is also pursuing a career in the ring (his first, very brief bout, is a comic highlight of the film.) Billy and Ernie are joined in their pursuit of the tarnished brass ring by Oma (Susan Tyrrell), another barfly who sets up house with Billy. The narrative, as is the case with so many great films from the period -- think Badlands (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976) - is more concerned with how these variously fractured souls deal with their environment, rather than adhering to a strict three-act structure.
Huston knew a thing or two about the fight game- for a brief time during his youth, he was a semi-professional boxer in Los Angeles. He once claimed in an interview that he attended Lincoln Heights High School because of its superior boxing program, even though it was in a decidedly rough part of town. Reputedly three world champions (he doesn't name them, so who knows if it's true) eventually graduated from the school. "I remember there was a place (in the area) called Madison Square Gardens and it was on Central Avenue, which was a black community. They used to make up posters for the fights - make up weights. The fighters would go round the night of the fight and pick out names...If you had red hair, you'd be Red O'Reilly, something like that. I remember fighting there one night under two different names!" Huston even cast a few of his boxing buddies from the old days as supporting players in Fat City.
Both Keach and Bridges told writer Lawrence Grobel that what you're seeing during Fat City's fight scenes is often very real. Keach said that, after carefully staging a bout beforehand, Huston apparently had a change of heart and shouted, "All right boys, now we're just going to have two minutes of boxing. Just go out there and fight!" Keach was rightfully terrified. "Every time I hit this guy," he said, "he couldn't help it, his left hand would come out and he really got me good. That shot is in the film. There's nothing fake about it, when I go down to the mat, it's real!" Bridges simply got popped so many times, he started to bleed from a nasty cut on his head.
In the end, it was all worthwhile. Fat City received rave reviews across the board in most cases. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of (Huston's) best films in years, and one of the best he has ever done: a lean, compassionate, detailed, raucous, sad, strong look at some losers and survivors on the side streets of small-city Middle America." All of the actors received praise, and Tyrrell was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Huston, as much as anyone, was surprised when Fat City became a commercial success- he hadn't had a real hit in a while. "I believed very much in the film," he said, "but would have been happy if it was well received by a selective audience." He didn't feel the characters were too depressing to be popular, either. "Personally, I admire the down-and-outers depicted in the film, people who have the heroism to take it on the chin in life as well as in the ring."
Watch Fat City and marvel at an old filmmaking heavyweight as he enters the final rounds of his illustrious career with his killer instinct intact.
Producer: Ray Stark, John Huston
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Leonard Gardner (based on his novel)
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editing: Margaret Booth
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Production Design: Richard Sylbert
Special Effects: Paul Stewart
Set Design: Morris Hoffman
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Principle Cast: Stacy Keach (Billy Tully), Jeff Bridges (Ernie Munger), Susan Tyrrell (Oma), Candy Clark (Faye), Nicholas Colasanto (Ruben), Art Aragon (Babe), Curtis Cokes (Earl), Sixto Rodriguez (Lucero), Billy Walker (Wes), Wayne Mahan (Buford), Ruben Navarro (Fuentes)
by Paul Tatara
Fat City - Stacy Keach & Jeff Bridges in John Huston's FAT CITY
Critics also cite the typical Huston theme as a celebration of glorious failure, the shining example being Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Its prospectors lose everything and finish laughing at the cosmic joke played at their expense. Huston's heroes may fail but their efforts are admired, applauded: revolutionary conspirators (We Were Strangers), jewel thieves (The Asphalt Jungle), ecological guerillas (The Roots of Heaven). There are exceptions, but even some of those are deceptive. We're told that the attempt to sink the gunboat at the end of The African Queen was originally scripted to fail.
John Huston made plenty of box office flops, yet rarely a dull picture. While other great directors struggled to stay working in the new Hollywood of the 1970s, Huston adapted to new forms. His first artistic triumph of the Director's Decade is Fat City, a fascinating portrait of a core Huston loser, a washed-up prizefighter who gives the game another try. Critically applauded but passed over at the box office, Fat City can boast a terrific cast headed by Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges, and featuring a startlingly original performance by Susan Tyrell.
Writer Leonard Gardner adapted his own novel for the screen. Broken-down boxer Tully (Stacy Keach) supports his liquor habit by picking crops with the migrant workers near Stockton, California. Meeting Ernie (Jeff Bridges), an enthusiastic novice boxer with potential, Tully is inspired to try the ring again. Both fighters are represented by manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto), a lover of the sport who can't seem to choose a winner -- all of his hopefuls keep getting pummeled. Ernie decides to persevere despite the misgivings of his sweet girlfriend Faye (Candy Clark), even after his nose is flattened in his very first fight. Meanwhile, Tully begins a relationship with the slovenly Oma (Susan Tyrell), a garrulous, argumentative alcoholic with a voice that could peel paint. Oma takes him in while her regular man Earl (Curtis Cokes) is locked up in prison. Ruben manages to get Tully a fight with a contender from Panama named Lucero (Sixto Rodriguez). Can Tully withstand Oma's emotional onslaught, and stay sober long enough to fight?
Huston adapts ably to the new character-oriented rhythms of '70s filmmaking. His opening sequence establishes the economic stagnation in Stockton as the unkempt and unwashed Tully ventures out of his dingy flat in search of a match to light his last cigarette. Tully is basically a good egg, a man with few grudges. He fell out of shape after being cut up by an opponent who may have hidden a razor in his boxing gloves. The booze took him the rest of the way to the bottom.
Unlike the semi-docu On the Bowery or Barbet Schroeder's inebriate's epic Barfly, Fat City doesn't condemn, mock or pity the drunks at "the bottom". Tully finds a new colleague in Ernie, and both boxers have a loyal friend in their manager. Ruben is not a particularly able boxing manager, as he tends to transmit his own nervousness to his clients. A hilarious pre-fight scene sees the young fighters desperately trying to psych themselves up for victory. But no manager cares more about "his boys" than Ruben. Post-fight, with every one of his crew bruised or bandaged, Ruben hands out the beers and assures his troupe that everything will be fine the next time.
Due to the punishment he's taken and his daily consumption of alcohol, Tully is just beginning to show signs of boxer's dementia. He continues to drink, whether training or picking crops in the intense heat of the fields. But the caustic Oma is even tougher on his overall morale. The woman either drowns Tully in overstated affection or lashes out with complaints and abuse. She's a total mess but our heart goes out to her anyway. The emotional whiplash has the normally unflappable Tully throwing temper tantrums of his own. Come the big fight with the pro from Panama, Ruben must rush to dry Tully out. He enters the ring exhausted and disoriented.
Gardner and Huston emphasize the loneliness and isolation of unsuccessful professionals. As it turns out the Panamanian boxer Lucero is in even worse condition than Tully. Something is wrong with his kidneys, as he urinates blood. The man walks slowly into the stadium, dignified but always alone; it's clear that he's just hoping to get his money and go home. Lucero's nose was broken long ago, and lies flattened to one side. The big match is between two pathetic pros on the verge of collapse.
Fat City was Jeff Bridges' follow-up film after his breakthrough in The Last Picture Show. He's already intensely likeable and self-assured as a decent, if not-too-bright young athlete. Ernie barely listens to Faye's hints about marriage; he's only capable of concentrating on one topic at a time. Candy Clark's Faye is a precursor to her marvelous performance in the next year's American Graffiti. It's clear that Faye will keep Ernie and make him happy. The amazing Susan Tyrell can't be blamed if the right parts didn't come along -- there simply aren't any more like her around. An utterly unregenerate character like Oma couldn't be properly portrayed in American movies until the retirement of the old Production Code. Had Hollywood remade the classic loser noir Detour in the early 1970s, Susan Tyrell would have been the ideal candidate to fill the shoes of Ann Savage as the ferocious Vera.
With the accomplished Conrad Hall as lighting cinematographer, Fat City's look is raw and naturalistic, yet never distractingly crude. Street and bar scenes are filmed from static setups but the camera moves fluidly during the fight action. Proving that a choice film assignment heals all relationships in Hollywood, Huston's supervising editor is Margaret Booth, formerly Louis B. Mayer's editorial czar. According to Lillian Ross, Booth presided over the dismembering of Huston's The Red Badge of Courage twenty-one years before. Booth spent a long career enforcing the requirement that all MGM pictures conform to dull house conventions of continuity cutting. Interestingly, she does quite well with the relaxed, sometimes purposely slack pace of Huston's character-driven mini-masterpiece.
Sony Pictures Choice Collection's DVD-R of Fat City is a fine encoding of one of John Huston's least-known gems. Color and sound are quite good. The song Help Me Make it Through the Night, sung by Kris Kristofferson, is heard over the title sequence.
The plain-wrap presentation plays the feature directly upon loading the disc and will recycle it until stopped. Sony released a now out-of-print standard DVD of this show ten years ago. The old disc's one advantage is that it has removable English subtitles. As with so many studio library releases today, "no frills" formatting gives hearing-impaired viewers less and less access to the old movies they love.
For more information about Fat City, visit Sony Pictures. To order Fat City, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Fat City - Stacy Keach & Jeff Bridges in John Huston's FAT CITY
Ray Stark (1915-2004)
Born on October 3, 1915 in New York City, Stark was educated at Rutgers University and New York University Law School. After graduation, he started his entertainment career selling radio scripts before he became a literary agent for such notable writers as Ben Hecht, Thomas P. Costain, and Raymond Chandler. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Stark - who had show-business connections through his mother-in-law, Broadway legend Fanny Brice - eventually became a top Hollywood agent at Famous Artists, where he represented such stars as Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Kirk Douglas, and Lana Turner.
By 1957, Stark was hungry to develop more of a taste in the film business, so he formed a partnership with fellow producer Elliott Hyman to create the independent movie firm, Seven Arts Productions. Stark's first film production credit was the popular drama The World of Suzie Wong (1960) starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan; and he followed that up with an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' superb Night of the Iguana (1964) with Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner.
Around this time, Stark had the ambition to produce a musical based on the life of his late mother-in-law, and produced his first Broadway musical - Funny Girl. The musical opened on March 24, 1964 and made Barbra Streisand the toast of the Great White Way. Eventually, Stark would make the film adaptation four years later, and Streisand would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Stark would also arrange a contract with Streisand to do three more movies for him within the next 10 years that still prove to be the most interesting of her career: the hilarious sex farce The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) with George Segal; the romantic drama The Way We Were (1973) with Robert Redford; and the sequel to her film debut Funny Lady (1975) co-starring Omar Sharif.
Stark also delivered another Broadway luminary to the movie going masses when he brought a string of well-acted, Neil Simon comedies to the silver screen, most notably: The Goodbye Girl (1977) with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss (Oscar winner, Best Actor); The Sunshine Boys (1975) with Walter Matthau and George Burns (Oscar winner, Best Supporting Actor); California Suite (1978) with Alan Alda, Michael Caine, and Dame Maggie Smith (Oscar winner, Best Supporting Actress); the nostalgic Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986) with Blythe Danner; and Biloxi Blues (1988) with Matthew Broderick. He also produced Steel Magnolias (1989), with an ensemble cast that introduced audiences to a radiantly young Julia Roberts. In television, Stark won an Emmy award for the HBO's telefilm Barbarians at the Gate (1993). His last credit as a producer (at age 84) was the Harrison Ford picture Random Hearts (1999).
Although he never won an Academy Award, Stark earned the most prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1980 and the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America in 1999. He is survived by his daughter, Wendy, and granddaughter, Allison.
by Michael T. Toole
Ray Stark (1915-2004)
Russ Saunders' onscreen credit reads: "Unit production manager and Assistant director." A September 1969 Variety news item indicated that United Artists would distribute a film adaptation of Leonard Gardner's first novel, Fat City, but by March 1971, producer Ray Stark had secured a deal with Columbia, according to Daily Variety. A Hollywood Reporter May 1971 item noted that former Los Angeles-based lightweight boxing contender Art Aragon would play a featured role. Aragon, who appeared as coaching assistant "Babe," had acted in films and television since the early 1950s, but Fat City was his last feature film role. In addition, Alvaro Lopez was a local Stockton boxer.
In a May 1972 Hollywood Reporter article, director John Huston indicated that his own youthful experience in the boxing world drew him to the topic. Although Huston had acted in films shot in the U.S. and directed several films in Europe, Fat City marked the first film Huston directed completely in America since The Misfits (1961). Susan Tyrrell received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Fat City was shot on location in Stockton, CA, as noted in contemporary sources. Modern sources add Carl D. Parker and Al Silvani, an assistant director on the film, to the cast.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States January 2003
Released in United States May 12, 1972
Released in United States on Video March 1988
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Shown at Cannes Film Festival May 12, 1972.
Shown at Palm Springs International Film Festival January 9-20, 2003.
Based on the Leonard Gardner novel "Fat City" (New York, 1969).
First film Huston directed completely in the United States since The Misfits (1961).
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)
Released in United States January 2003 (Shown at Palm Springs International Film Festival January 9-20, 2003.)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States May 12, 1972 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival May 12, 1972.)
Released in United States on Video March 1988