Fat City 50th-Anniversary Screening

Thu 07 July / Pálás 1 / 14:00

1972 / United States / 96 min / Drama

Fat City – like many of the B movies with which it rhymes – The Naked City, Night and the City, Atlantic City is both a real and imaginary place located between the gleaming promise of the American dream and its seedier dead ends. It is one of John Huston’s more overlooked films – rarely mentioned in the same breath as ‘classics’ such as Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – but it’s one of his best. Its secondary status is a shame since it both illuminates Huston’s peculiar genius for adaptation as well as his fascination with male characters poised between vaunting ambition and vain delusion. In this respect it provides an essential bridge between his earlier studio films and his late career, which culminates with his adaptation of James Joyce’s The Dead; his final exploration of themes of male ego and epiphany, albeit in a very different context. 

The film premiered at Cannes 1972 as part of a tribute to Huston, ‘a director who has remained in limbo for so long that, until Fat City, it was hard to remember he still existed,’ remarked one reviewer. After a string of commercial and critical failures – A Walk with Love and Death, Sinful Davey, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Bible: In the Beginningand working in the U.S. for the first time since The Misfits (1965), Huston was judged to be ‘redeemed’ by the film, ‘returning to a milieu of failed boxers that he knew intimately as a young man … and wound up with what may prove to be his definitive statement.’* 

It’s fitting for the Galway Film Fleadh to screen Fat City on its 50th anniversary since, despite its far-off setting in Stockton, California, it was planned here, after Huston read the novel and invited its young author Leonard Gardner to visit him at his Co. Galway home – St Clerans – to discuss adapting his first novel for the screen. [Gardner never wrote a second]. As with many of Huston’s light-touch adaptations, the script closely followed the structure and takes large sections of dialogue from the book. Here, as elsewhere, Huston’s success as a director derived from an ability to identify stories which chimed with his own interests and in casting the right actors. Fat City is grounded by brilliant performances from its leads: Stacey Keach as the washed up boxer Tully in search of one more chance, Jeff Bridges (who had recently achieved acclaim as in The Last Picture Show [1971]) as the hopeful journeyman Ernie and the irrepressible Susan Tyrrell, who received an Oscar nomination for her bittersweet depiction of aging alcoholic, Oma. 

Fat City is one both one of the great independent American films of the early 1970s, a cinema characterised by male melancholy and disillusion -“we blew it” as Easy Rider puts it – and a remnant from the 1940s; the last great boxing B movie. Its defeated milieu and mood of dejection would soon give way to the Regan-era triumphs of Rocky [1976] and the hard bodied stardom of Stallone and others as the franchise blockbuster re-asserted Hollywood hope, glory and hoopla.  

*Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘Surprises at Cannes: Huston redeemed, Tashlin reincarnated’, The Village Voice, June 29, 1972 

Tony Tracy 

Director: John Huston
Writer: Leonard Gardner
Producer: Ray Stark, John Huston
Cast: Jeff Bridgers, Stacy Keach, Susan Tyyrell, Candy Clark

Principal funder