Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Southpaw stepping into the ring next week, and the Rocky spinoff Creed on its way this autumn, let’s cheer on some of the great boxing movies of yesteryear.
Stockton, California circa 1972 looks like a series of Stephen Shore photos collaged with the drunks and burnouts of the archetypal mid-century skid row. Fat City—John Huston’s ode to a peculiarly American species of loser—is set here, in filthy bars, dingy gyms, and all manner of places where one wouldn’t even want to wash their hands. This is the story of a has-been (Stacy Keach, sans hairpiece), an up-and-comer (Jeff Bridges), and a barfly (Susan Tyrrell) doing nothing much except getting by each day. This is a boxing movie without all that much boxing in it; when the fights come, they are desperate, painful, pathetic, and quick. These are not great athletes, but second- and third-rate fighters—guys who probably shouldn’t be in the ring to begin with. Even the characters who aren’t boxers look beaten up.
Adapted by Leonard Gardner from his own novel, Fat City’s script is a quintessential slice of the ’70s downbeat—lives lived in perpetual slow decay, by people who are only dimly aware of their own lack of prospects. “All a man needs is a woman with a good job” is what passes for life advice here. Huston had dropped out of high school to chase the dream of becoming a professional boxer, and his treatment of the characters is, unsurprisingly, both melancholy and unromantic. A different director might have fashioned the same basic material into something grandiose, but Huston errs on the side of understatement. Shot largely on location, this raw, pessimistic portrait of people struggling to keep from slipping all the way down reinvigorated the veteran director’s reputation, and stands as one of his best and most accomplished films.
Availability: Fat City is available on DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.