so, some time back my sibling gave me a copy of a film i’d been looking to add to my collection for some time: the 1974 action/blaxploitation film Three The Hard Way, which has a ridiculously awesome title and a ridiculous cast (Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly) and which i know to be, well, ridiculous. and it occurred to me that there’s a solid chance that as many people on the internet might not have seen it and/or heard of the insanity containing within it… well, it’d make for a solid “running diary” film for this here website (as opposed to my long-promised RoboCop 2 running diary). so here we go!
preparatory information: well, i’ll just let Wikipedia sum this one up for you. “A white supremacist and his fascist sect plan to poison the United States water supply. The water supplies of the cities of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles are targeted. The toxin will not harm whites, only African-Americans, and the agent is lethal. Protagonists Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson attempt to foil the evil plot by any means necessary.” it’s also directed by Gordon Parks Jr, whose father directed Shaft and who himself directed Super Fly. what a crazy family. what’s not immediately obvious for those of you without this DVD is that the back of the case has a wicked collage of photos of Jim Kelly.
00:00:00: and with that, this film jumps off into some weirdly-scored prison (and by prison, i think i mean “motel with armed guards”) sequence that features some absolutely unnecessary freeze-frame-and-odd-sound moments. or, to put it another way, “freeze the shot as this guy’s handing over a plate of food and then throw in a weird musical cue” moments.
00:02:48: and there’s a “dramatic” escape that gets the plot rolling or something (with all due respect, you know how tenuous these concepts can be in a blaxploitation film)… which starts with a guy using a crowbar to break through a door with GLASS WINDOWS. huh. then he finds evidence of this plot and awkwardly bludgeons one of the white supremacists and gets into an awkward gunfight; i admit that seems like an lot of “awkwards,” but really, watch this and you’ll see that they’re appropriate. also, as a gun nerd aside, i should note there’s a lot of M1 carbines going on already, so that’s nice.
seriously, with a title like that, this title sequence should have been a lot more awesome
00:06:35: so we finally get the credits sequence, and man, is this credit sequence incredibly inappropriate. this is an action movie, right? so why is the theme song a slow love ballad (“Wendy”)? why are we watching footage of Jim Brown romancing a woman in a playful fashion? why is this sequence so long? meanwhile, Brown’s collars are a monument to 1970s ridiculousness.
00:09:35: Jim Brown (Jimmy Lait) has his friend brought to him by these two white kids that were forced to drive him a great distance (“all night,” anyway); if i recall my blaxploitation correctly, Dolomite once did a similar thing to a guy in one of his movies, so i guess this is one of those staples of the genre.
00:14:06: Jim Brown leaves his girl behind with his friend to go to a recording session for the Impressions. seriously, this happens. and again, it’s not brief: the Impressions sing half a song (“That’s What Love Will Do”) complete with close-ups for each of them, after which Brown is unnecessarily harsh and the Impressions unnecessarily foul (i guess even R&B singers have to look tough sometimes). side note: the Impressions are not one of those groups where everyone is good-looking. not at all.
00:17:01: pointless twist: white dudes use one of those maintenance trucks with a cherry-picker to kill Jim Brown’s friend and then abduct Brown’s girl, which begs the question “why not shoot them both?” i mean, okay, we all know it’s to further the plot, but still, in terms of the ridiculous universe the events of this film exist in, it makes no sense.
there is really no call for the explosion in question
00:21:28: Jim Brown is attacked by two white dudes driving cars in a parking garage, which immediately gets insane as Brown fires a massive revolver at them while never reloading while ALSO never shooting either driver on one of the occasions he’s draped across one of their hoods; on the top level, however, he manages to shoot them and cause them to drive off the roof … whereupon one of the two cars also EXPLODES as it drives off the roof, for reasons that are not adequately explained. and this whole sequence takes less time than that Impressions recording session.
00:22:38: the white dudes take Jim Brown’s girl to a suburban hideout where the villain’s name is revealed to be “Monroe Feather.” seriously, there’s something about the quality of a villain’s name that relates directly to the quality of the movie, and in this case, things aren’t looking good.
00:24:53: Chicago and/or Fred Williamson get much better introductory music than Jim Brown did; i assume this is the reason why Brown “playfully” assaults Williamson as a method of greeting him inside his apartment. Williamson, as “Jagger Daniels,” clearly also has the superior fake name and seems to think that “Chicago soul food” will solve all of Brown’s problems, problems that include an abducted lady and a complicated white supremacist plot.
00:28:55: note to the 5-foot-nothing white supremacist henchman: you attempting to throw Jim Brown in front of a train is the worst assassination idea ever, and it’s just going to result in Brown using said train to kill you and then, it would seem, a complicated foot chase. i’m not even going to dignify the “shooting gallery” pun that occurs with a remark. well, not with more of a remark than that one.
00:31:16: a huge shoot-out breaks out with a swarm of white dudes, which begs the question: why even attempt to push Jim Brown to death when you could have just shot him? although in fairness, all the white dudes do get kind of mowed down in this shoot-out, so it’s not like any of the ideas these goons are bringing to the table are THAT guaranteed to work.
this is probably my favorite ridiculous kick in the film, but without the accompanying crazy noise, it cannot truly be appreciated
00:33:00: Jim Kelly (“Mister Keyes”) is introduced with what i can only assume is an attempt to plant drugs in his car by the cops; unluckily for them, Kelly is highly-skilled when it comes to wrecking cops with karate attacks (as these cops would know if they’d watched Enter The Dragon). i did not fully realize, however, the weirdness of the noises that Kelly makes when karate attacking cops, especially when those noises are played in slow-motion. Brown and Williamson materialize right as this fight is ending (how convenient), and they all have a good laugh… and that’s how we learn we’ve traveled to New York.
00:37:46: we’re investigating a warehouse for some reason? and now another gunfight is breaking out? there’s been absolutely NO explanation of how we got here or what’s going on, but at least we get a sequence of Jim Kelly holding a guy while people shoot him, which is just unsafe.
00:39:24: there’s a dramatically-scored sequence where a trio of bikers clad in red, white and blue (respectively) cruise through the streets of the city. if i’d been directing this film, this is time i would have used to explain what the hell was going on with that warehouse shoot-out. that said, these bikers are apparently a trio of ladies that interrogate people for Fred Williamson.
whatever you do, Jim Kelly, DON’T ASK WHAT’S IN THE BAG
00:42:31: as further proof that we’re currently in the middle of a blaxploitation film, these ladies have their shirts off already. i’m getting the impression they’re dominatrices (really? that’s the plural of “dominatrix?”) of some creepy sort, although this white dude ends up looking mysteriously untouched for a guy who’s supposedly been tortured into submission.
00:46:31: well, according to this white supremacist plot, apparently, if you want to kill all blacks in the US with a poison, you need only poison the water supplies of Washington DC, Los Angeles and Detroit. never mind the part where Chicago and New York have been the locales for all the action involving black guys so far, i guess.
00:50:49: based on the music accompanying this scene, Monroe Feather and his evil white supremacist doctor seem to be having a bit of a romantic interlude.
at this point, i have no business being surprised by the notion of this truck exploding for no reason
00:53:58: an incredibly awkward attempt to kill Jim Brown by running over a phone booth with him in it (seriously) results in him somehow surviving, climbing over the dump truck, throwing one goon out and then leaping off the truck, causing the other to drive it into a billboard… which somehow explodes, of course. i guess that saves Los Angeles?
00:58:50: still more proof that we’re currently in the middle of a blaxploitation film: Fred Williamson is totally getting laid in Detroit for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, though it’s funny for Williamson to ditch the girl by telling her he has work to do. you had that work to do before you sexed her up, Fred!
01:01:03: if there’s anything i have learned from this film, it’s that Fred Williamson can cause cars to flip over ridiculously like no other man before him; in this case he accomplishes it by nudging the rear of said car with his own car. he then proceeds to shoot some white dudes (excellent), get into a violent car chase that DOESN’T make any cars flip, but which does save Los Angeles, and shoot more white dudes (still excellent).
ATTENTION HENCHMEN: this is the part where the team of you guys with guns are supposed to shoot Jim Kelly
01:04:36: as soon as the heavily-armed strike team of white dudes began to pour out of their cars, i thought to myself “i guess this is where Jim Kelly beats another pile of guys up using kicks and zany noises.” but he also uses ninja ropes and his Asian assistant “Link” in addition to those kicks (and actually, i think his assistant beats most of the guys up).
01:09:15: to be perfectly honest, at this point i don’t even know what Jim Brown is doing or where he is. i thought he already saved Los Angeles, although i admit that doesn’t mean it’s still not fun to beat the shit out of some white supremacists past that point.
01:11:14: tragically, Jim Brown’s happy-go-lucky assistant is killed while trying to protect Brown from a random white dude Brown forgot to beat up. it’s sad, but luckily the accompanying scream(s) of them falling to their death(es) are so ridiculous as to cheer you up.
01:12:27: Jim Brown avenges his friend (or friends, really) by shooting the hell out of a lot of white dudes, several of which choose to turn and run and be shot in the back rather than shooting back at Brown with the guns IN THEIR HANDS. the idiocy of this is redeemed by the theatrical death of a guy who goes flying off the top of a dam. also, NOW Los Angeles is saved. finally!
if there’s one thing we should all know by now, it’s this: don’t fuck with Jim Brown
01:17:32: wow, there is NOTHING on the face of the planet as lame as this white supremacist party. and Monroe Feather, let me just tell you this: when you earlier declared that “no power on earth can stop us now,” you were basically begging god to have Fred Williamson (or Jim Brown or whoever) punch you in the face as hard as they possibly can.
01:20:44: not really sure why Jim Kelly took his shirt off… but i’m sure he has his reasons. he also makes the same crazy noises as before when he’s a) killing guys with knives or b) setting off alarms and thus negating the entire purpose of their stealthy entry.
01:22:11: apparently, Jim Brown’s submachine gun fires tiny missiles. because the way this house seems to EXPLODE when he shoots at it, there is no better explanation.
01:24:08: WHY ARE ALL THESE GUYS ON THE ROOF
mad scientists are never long for this world
01:24:49: apparently, our mad scientist’s “lab” is actually a restaurant’s kitchen. oh, and if you shoot a gun in there, he will immediately be lit on fire.
01:25:59: at least this time when the jeeps explode, it’s explained either a) Jim Brown shooting “explosive” rounds into it or b) Jim Brown doing something mysterious to it that causes sparks and explodes the villain? also, apparently Fred Williamson is a bad enough dude to dodge a hail of bullets being fired into a jeep in which he is fist-fighting three henchmen.
01:27:37: now we’re just blowing up random sedans from a van with hand grenades like this is the A-Team or something. seriously, that’s the conclusion: “finishing it” after the villain’s killed by blowing up everyone’s cars.
really, the most ridiculous thing about this film is this: it’s only 89 minutes long, and yet you could probably trim another 15 unnecessary minutes off it. or, even better, use that 15 minutes to make some additional sense out of the film we got. but the song “Three The Hard Way” is pretty excellent.