Fat City

John Huston scored a late-career knockout with this bruising and deeply felt study of an ageing boxer stumbling from the ring to the bar

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 29 Mar 2017
Film title: Fat City
Director: John Huston
Starring: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark, Nicholas Colasanto
Release date: 27 Mar
Certificate: 15

What got into John Huston in the 1970s? In the decade previous, the once-great director had begun churning out arthritic prestige pictures – see 1966's The Bible. But as American cinema was finding its voice again with a new generation of movie brats (Scorsese, Coppola et al), Huston seemed to shake loose the moss with this downbeat masterpiece following a hard-drinking boxer with delusions of a comeback.

We first see our unlikely champion Tully (Keach), the roughest looking 29-year-old in movie history, shambling out of bed in frayed Y-fronts, clearly hungover; Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through the Night plays wryly on the soundtrack. Everything looks rundown in Fat City (aka Stockton, California): the dusty boxing gyms, the seedy bars, the city itself. In among this decrepitude, a fresh-faced Jeff Bridges shines bright as greenhorn Ernie, but even this enthusiastic puppy dog loses his shine on the pittiless amateur boxing circuit.

A former fighter of some note himself, Huston shows the sweet science for what it really is: brutal and ugly; even when you win it feels like you’ve been KO'd. Despite all the pessimism, you sense Huston’s love for the sport too. He’s like Ernie and Tully’s hopeful trainer Ruben (Colasanto), who has the chutzpah to tell a boxer he's a future champ even as he crawls dazed from the bloodied canvas.

Far tougher than any of these punch drunk pugilists is the permanently drunk Oma (Tyrrell), with whom Tully attempts a disastrous cohabitation. "Screw everybody!" is her mantra, and while the film ends with its male leads staring into the abyss of their futures, we know that at least somewhere in Fat City, Oma is having fun… until the hangover kicks in, that is.


A great – but brief – interview with Huston from French TV and audio from a wide-ranging screen talk at London's NFT shortly after Fat City’s UK premier are highlights of the packed extras package. There’s also a beefy booklet containing an essay by the always enlightening Danny Leigh.

Released by Indicator