Following Tambay’s lead last week on Ernest Dickerson’s 1994 film “Surviving The Game”, and how there are some black films that have a new relevancy that they perhaps did not have when they first came out, as he said, considering “the current racial and political climate in the USA, in light of the election of one Donald J. Trump as leader of the so-called ‘free world'”…
Another example on that premise is the 1974 film “Three the Hard Way” directed by Gordon Parks Jr. At the time of its initial release, it was considered too far fetched back then (or maybe not so much, since that was during the Richard Nixon years, who was certainly no friend of black people). I’ve always strongly believed that “Hard Way” was the ultimate, most ambitious and most perfect example of the then so-called “Blaxploitation” genre. It’s a wild, loopy, illogical, James Bondian action adventure, with a great premise, which almost seems to have been made for today. In fact, considering the huge box office success of “Get Out” – most of which was because of timing than anything else – I could argue that “Hard Way” might be just as big a success today, had it been made in 2017.
At the time of the film’s release it was touted that it had a budget of $2 million, which was hyped as the most expensive black film ever produced back then ($2 million went a lot further in those days); and the film really showed off the budget with elaborate stunts and set pieces, as well as on-location shooting in L.A., Washington D.C., New York and Chicago.
The story follows three friends (or “The Big Three” as they are so rightfully called in the trailer for the film, below) – Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and the late great martial arts legend Jim Kelly – who team up to stop a mad plot by a wealthy white supremacist to contaminate the country’s water supply, with a special chemical that will target and kill off every black person in the U.S.
See what I mean? What may have seemed ridiculous back in 1974, or 1994, or even 2014 for that matter, doesn’t seem so crazy today does it? In fact, when you consider the rise of the so-called “alt-right”, emboldened white nationalist groups all across the country and in Europe, as well as who is currently occupying the White House (Omarosa and Ben Carson notwithstanding), the story now eerily seems more like it could happen in real-life.
Besides, who could resist the basic idea of three black men saving the entire black race? It’s a concept that, in this day and age, resonates with an urgency that makes it compelling.
The film was the third of only four films directed by Parks Jr., son of the legendary director, photographer, composer, author and renaissance man Gordon Parks. He burst onto the film scene with his first feature film, the 1972 near-classic, “Super Fly,” and by the time he made “Hard Way,” he was solidly establishing a career as a major filmmaker.
However, his career was unfortunately cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in Kenya in 1979, while scouting locations for a film project. And I still contend that, not only is “Three The Hard Way” his best film, it also gives, what I call, the “last full bloom” of hardcore black masculinity on screen, with Brown, Williamson and Kelly. And let’s face it, you couldn’t make a film like this today. Where are you going to get three black actors to pull off those roles? Who are the Jim Browns, Fred Williamsons and Jim Kellys of the 21st century?
(The sound of crickets…) It just isn’t the same as it was back then.
“Three the Hard Way” was released on DVD from Warner Home Video in 2010, but it was part of a 4-film “Urban Action” collection. Although the label rreally should re-issue it seperately, since it’s far and away the best film in that collection. But regardless, it’s definitely worth seeing.
Check out the rather rough, battered looking trailer below which is not even in the correct screen aspect ratio, but it should give you some idea of what the film is like.