March Blues – Take 2

Powerhouse/Indicator have two further releases this month, John Huston’s gritty boxing movie Fat City and The Front, the Martin Ritt/Woody Allen satirical take on HUAC and the Hollywood blacklist.

Fat City (1972) offers a glimpse into  the lives of two fighters, the tired and jaded Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) and the youthful Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges). Typically, boxing dramas use the fight backdrop to tell stories of crime or ambition, or often just human triumph in the face of adversity. As such, Fat City is an atypical boxing film but, somewhat paradoxically, a classic example of early 70s cinema. It’s one of those frank appraisals of struggling types that seemed to become increasingly common in an era still hung over from the JFK assassination and wearied by the latter stages of the war in South East Asia.

A lot, though not all, of John Huston’s work had a cynical edge, a bitter way of looking at life and human nature – think about the endings of The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and you’ll see what I mean. While Fat City had an undeniable harshness and bleakness, the tendency towards cynicism is replaced by compassion. If Leonard Gardner’s script (from his own novel) and Huston’s direction aren’t exactly uplifting, the end result is nevertheless satisfying.

The new Blu-ray is yet another David Mackenzie encode of a 4K restoration. What that means is that Conrad Hall’s cinematography looks particularly fine. The film, as befits the theme and locations, is subdued and shadowy, but in a good way with plenty of detail and natural-looking grain.

In terms of supplements it’s another stacked package. The disc carries a commentary track by Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs in addition to a 1972 interview with Huston recorded at the NFT and, similar to a commentary, plays out over the film. Sucker Punch Blues is an extensive analysis of the film with input from surviving cast and crew members. This is backed up by an audio interview with writer Leonard Gardner, a brief bit of footage with Huston, the trailer and an image gallery. The accompanying 28 page illustrated booklet opens with a strong piece by Danny Leigh, follows up with a contemporary Sight & Sound review, and ties it all up with comments on the film by both John Huston and Stacy Keach.

The Front (1976) looks at one of the most painful and shameful periods of film and television history, the era of HUAC and the blacklist. Like all satire, it has a serious point to make. Woody Allen’s cash-strapped cashier starts out like one of his trademark angst-ridden opportunists, jumping at the chance to do a blacklisted friend a favor, and himself an even bigger one, by becoming a front for him – i.e. allowing his name to be used on the scripts and passing them off as his own. While the money and romantic possibilities are hugely attractive, the charade also reveals its uglier side as he witnesses the relentless grinding down of the spirit of Zero Mostel’s comic actor.

Tye movie features solid work from Allen and former blacklist victims director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein and Zero Mostel. And the film really belongs to Mostel; clearly feeding off his own experiences, he delivers a performance that ranges from the barnstorming to the heartbreaking, and culminates in a final scene that is quite sublime.

The Powerhouse/Indicator Blu-ray is, yet again, a David Mackenzie encode of a 4K restoration. The Image looks great throughout with lots of detail, depth and clarity. The extra features on the disc are a little lighter this time. There’s a commentary track with Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Andrea Marcovicci, one of the film’s stars. In addition we get a short interview with cinematographer Michael Chapman, an isolated score track, a gallery and the trailer. The booklet is a substantial one, coming in at 36 pages. Gabriel Miller, who has written about Martin Ritt, provides the detailed article that kicks it off. This is followed up by extracts of interviews with Ritt, Bernstein and Allen.

So, we’re talking about another two worthy releases by Powerhouse/Indicator. Both films have been treated to fine presentations that highlight their strengths, and come with the kind of carefully chosen supplements that make for highly desirable packages. I’d watched Fat City a number of times before and it therefore held no surprises for me, although it does look as good as I’ve ever seen it. The Front,  however was a new one for me and I have to say I was very favorably impressed. It’s a good story and well made but the performance of Zero Mostel lifts it up to another level, making it a memorable and moving piece of cinema.

All told, these releases are first-rate editions of two fine examples of 70s cinema. The strong visuals and the comprehensive extras are evidence of how seriously the label is taking its place in the market. It all bodes extremely well for their upcoming titles.

29 thoughts on “March Blues – Take 2

    • Are you hinting that I’ve been straying from my roots more and more lately, John? 🙂
      I’ve been diversifying in a way, and the good people at Indicator have seen fit to supply me with some review screeners so it’s only fair I devote some time and space to doing so.
      But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about westerns and will have a piece up on one fairly soon.


        • Listen, I know you were just kidding me, but you make a god point by doing so. I guess what it comes down to is the fact that a good movie is a good movie and will find fans everywhere.


  1. I am persuaded! So both on order – FAT CITY is one of only a couple of Huston movies I have yet to see (WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH is another) while THE FRONT is a film I know well and like a great deal.


      • Yes, I agree about the Brando. I wish the Peckinpah would get some substantial extras, especially as the writing of it was apparently a bit complex as it seems that William Roberts really deserved the credit (though ironically, on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN it was Walter Newman who should have got the main credit, so …)


  2. Colin – These films are two more examples of why the decade of the 1970s was a golden age. I have not seen either in years, but remember them. But I barely recall any boxing in FAT CITY outside of sparring in a crummy gym. I recall a gritty character piece – emphasis on the word gritty. I need to get hold of a DVD and watch it again. As for THE FRONT, Zero Mostel’s subtle little pantomime in his last scene still haunts me. I believe Martin Ritt was an actor who started directing in live television. He, like a handful of other TV directors – Schaffner, Lumet, Frankenheimer – turned out some of the best films of the 1960s and 1970s.


    • There’s a bit of boxing in Fat City, Elgin, but you’re essentially right in that it’s the backdrop for the story rather than anything approaching the focal point. And yes, gritty cannot be emphasized enough in any description of the film.

      As for Ritt, I’ve seen a number of his films now and I too find him a very interesting director, less so as time went on, particularly that 60s and 70s work. While The Front was new to me, that scene you mention with Mostel is quite incredible in its execution, elegance and the emotional impact it has.


  3. In answer to Sergio’s point re biographies, there has yet to be a biography proper on Joel McCrea, to the best of my knowledge. A huge oversight. McCrea was a pretty big star in the 1930s (from 1930 actually) and it seems crazy that his life has not elicited a good book. Maybe his life is considered too uncontroversial to be interesting to sensation-seekers. Personally, that (his niceness) would be the very thing that would sell it to me.
    Luckily, as far as Randolph Scott goes, we have Robert Knott’s very nice book. Well….book(s) really as Knott first wrote that other fine book about the films of McCrea, Scott and Audie Murphy. Both are ‘must-haves’.


    • Jerry, I suspect you’re right about the stability in McCrea’s life being a (large?) part of the reason why we haven’t seen a biography. I know I’d buy one were it available as well so there ought to be something of a market out there.


  4. I guess the extras on the RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY DVD will be
    carried over to the Blu Ray release.
    I sort of agree that Peckinpah’s film is so monolithic that it really deserves
    the Criterion treatment-still I’m delighted to finally see this masterwork in high def.
    Very happy,also about Burt Kennedy’s THE ROUNDERS getting the high def treatment.
    Speaking about Burt Kennedy and Stacy Keach I’d love to see THE KILLER INSIDE ME
    finally get released-a once in a lifetime cast if ever there was one.
    ONE EYED JACKS divides opinion but the film has stood the test of time very
    well-it’s plus factors far outweigh any faults-the Criterion release was breathtaking
    so the Arrow (from the same source) should be equally good.
    I wonder if Arrow will also release STRAW DOGS after the Criterion appears.
    The Godawful Sidonis,with their loathed “forced” subs have announced three
    interesting items from Columbia’s vaults-two Alan Ladd vehicles HELL BELOW ZERO
    and THE BLACK KNIGHT and Nick Ray’s BITTER VICTORY-all on Blu Ray.
    Powerhouse/Indicator would be very well advised to pick up on the latter title.
    Just viewed Elephant (France) Blu Ray’s of NIGHT PASSAGE and ULZANA’S RAID.
    The transfer on the former is breathtaking and the films scenic beauty more than compensates
    for the fact Mann did not direct.
    ULZANA’S RAID gives us three versions all with English language with easy to delete subs-
    Sidonis are you listening?
    As always with Elephant very user friendly menus and super picture quality.
    Powerhouse/Indicator seem to have an aversion to Westerns and that’s a shame-
    perhaps Walter Hill’s GERONIMO would be a good place to start.


    • Ultimately, with something like Ride the High Country the film is the thing and having it in, one hopes, a good Hi-Def transfer is what matters most.
      While I may be somewhat ambivalent about One-Eyed Jacks as a film I’ll certainly be getting the new Blu-ray as the visuals are of the sort that definitely benefit from the extra resolution.
      We’ll see how things pan out with Powerhouse and westerns, they’re still relatively new and the number of releases each month are limited. I imagine they want to focus as far as possible on titles they feel will have broad appeal, at least to begin and generate as many sales as possible.


  5. Firstly,Colin I asked on Warners Facebook page
    regarding THE KILLER INSIDE ME and they replied that
    sadly their rights on this title expired decades ago…that’s a
    pity because it’s one of Burt Kennedy’s very best.
    On a more positive note Warners did say that they have several
    other CinemaScope (or Panavision) Westerns in the works for the
    Blu Ray treatment.
    If their Blu Ray is anything like their recent BAD DAY AT BLACK
    ROCK,then we are in for a real treat with RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY..
    My “most wanted” are TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN,THE LAW & JAKE WADE
    and TOM HORN. The Warner MOD of A THUNDER OF DRUMS was stellar but
    I’d still happily go for a high-def upgrade-Newman’s fine Western is criminally

    According to Amazon fr. the Sidonis version of BITTER VICTORY will be the
    full length French version not the shorter UK version or the drastically cut
    (82 minutes) USA version.
    I was pleased to see the announcement of the two Warwick Films titles
    (HELL BELOW ZERO and THE BLACK KNIGHT) I always thought that
    their delayed release might be something to do with Cubby Brocolli’s
    estate,though the USA Sony MOD imprint did release several Warwick titles.
    Alan Ladd’s friend Euan Lloyd said making THE BLACK KNIGHT would be a smart
    move,because apart from the very attractive salary Ladd’s work on the film would
    be very limited as much of it would be carried out by a stunt double hidden by a
    suit of armor.
    Ladd did not want to do the film but his pal finally persuaded him.
    Ladd also introduced Lloyd to the Westerns of Louis L’amour and oddly
    enough Lloyd would eventually make several Euro Westerns based om L’Amour’s
    I have finally found some love for SHALAKO over at Jeff Arnold’s very fine Western blog
    Jeff is something of an expert on the West which makes his blog even more interesting.
    I found that the Blu Ray of HANNIE CAULDER really raised the film’s game so I’ll probably
    give the Blu of SHALAKO a go to see if the same thing happens.

    Other very interesting Warwick films on the “missing list” are A PRIZE OF GOLD
    (Richard Widmark) THE MAN INSIDE (Jack Palance) and KILLERS OF KILIMANJARO
    (Robert Taylor)
    There is also the very fine HIGH FLIGHT which has Ray Milland in top form
    as an RAF officer. The film was a huge hit in the UK but only released in black &
    white in the USA.
    Koch Media in Germany have, I understand, negotiated a deal with Columbia/Sony
    so hopefully some of these much sought after Warwick titles will appear on Koch
    eventually…I certainly hope so otherwise it’s the Sidonis option,sadly.


    • John, I really enjoyed reading about those Warwick Films titles there. I freely admit to knowing next to nothing about these but the stars alone make them sound extremely attractive.


  6. Colin-I have often commented on the Warwick titles,
    both here and elsewhere and as you have shown some
    interest I will; make one final trip to the well.
    Warwick was formed by Cubby Broccoli and Irving Allen-
    (Not IRWIN the disaster movie king)
    The goal was to make big budget action movies,yet most
    of them were B movies in spirit,at least.
    Their template seems to have been the highly successful
    Pine-Thomas pictures.
    Warwick’s first THE RED BERET (Paratrooper) was a huge hit.
    Part of Alan Ladd’s terms was that his pal Richard Maibaum
    be taken on board.
    This turned out to be a very good move for Maibaum as he
    penned several other Warwick’s (including several non Ladd
    titles) and stayed with Broccoli through the Bond’s right up to
    the Dalton era.(Maibaum’s passing)
    Victor Mature made more Warwick’s than any other USA star
    and thus far NO TIME TO DIE (Tank Force) and THE BANDIT
    OF ZHOBE remain unreleased.
    When Warwick decided to go up-market with THE TRIALS OF
    OSCAR WILDE the box office failure of the film brought Warwick to
    a sad end. Broccoli & Allen made one final film JOHNNY NOBODY
    an excellent Ireland set thriller directed by and starring Warwick regular
    Nigel Patrick.
    Aldo Ray and William Bendix also starred and sadly JOHNNY NOBODY
    remains unreleased.
    Broccoli was very keen to make the Bond’s-Allen wasn’t.
    Allen even upset Ian Fleming’s agents and Broccoli had to go back to them
    cap in hand to retrieve the situation.
    When Allen saw his old partner cleaning up having struck box office gold-
    he later made the Matt Helm films with Dino.
    Connery,reportedly became very annoyed when he learned that Martin was
    getting paid far more than he was for the Bonds.


    • I’ve seen the Ladd film and thought it was just OK, nothing more.
      I’ve seen Johnny Nobody online on, I think, YouTube and it may still be available there. It’s a very good and rather different movie, and I’d love to see it get a proper release as it deserves it.


  7. Just as an add-on to the above JOHNNY NOBODY was the
    support feature to THE HELLIONS Irving Allen’s first feature
    away from Broccoli.
    THE HELLIONS is a hugely entertaining South African take
    on HIGH NOON with Richard Todd up against a murderous clan-
    (Lionel Jefferies,James Booth and Marty Wilde-having the time of
    their lives),.
    I DO hope both of these films find their way to DVD or Blu Ray
    eventually-I understand both films are much sought after.


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