As you should know by now, I love Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s. Really love them. I was raised on Blaxploitation films and still find them an endless source of excitement and thrills. Just the image of seeing a black man conquering all challenges, including racist villains, still thrills me to no end.
But I’ve never been exactly fond of the term Blaxploitation – the not-really-so-clever mix of black and exploitation – for the films its meant to identify. The word exploitation suggests something minor, cheap and tawdry. And while admittedly many exploitation films were, it was almost always in an entertaining way. I’ve never found Blaxploitation films to be minor films. In many ways, several of them were more profound and substantial than are given credit for, and they had, and still have a major visceral impact.
And when it comes to Blaxploitation films, I’ve always strongly believed that the ultimate, most ambitious and most perfect example of the genre, was Gordon Parks Jr’s 1974 film “Three The Hard Way”. It’s a wild, loopy, illogical, James Bondian action adventure, with a great premise, that no Hollywood studio would have the guts to make again today.
The film had a budget of $2 million, which was hyped at the time as the most expensive Blaxploitation film ever produced ($2 million went a lot further in those days), and it 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 rich white supremacist (hmmm… kinda sound familiar doesn’t it) to contaminate the country’s water supply, with a special chemical created that will only poison and kill off every black person in the the U.S.
Now, of course, you may laugh and call it far-fetched, but who couldn’t resist the basic idea of three black men saving the entire black race? It’s a concept that, in this day and age, sounds more relevant with the resurgence of the so-called “alt-right” white nationalist movement, spurred on by a certain orange colored loudmouth. And you get the feeling that the whole premise isn’t too far from reality.
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.
Although many will name “Super Fly” as their favorite film directed by Parks Jr., I still contend that “Three The Hard Way” is his best film. It 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?
See what I mean? It just isn’t the same. The industry hasn’t cultivated them. If they tried to stop a plot to kill off all black people, we would all be dead by now. OK, yeah that was cold; but admit it, I’m right… aren’t I?
But if you have never seen it, and you live in the Chicago area, here’s your chance. The Block Museum, located at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, is going to present a special screening of the film on Thursday Oct 13, starting at 7PM. But what’s even better is that the hammer himself, Fred Williamson, will be at the screening in person for a conversation afterward, with Professor Harvey Young of NU’s School of Communications. For more info go here.
Check out the trailer and poster for “Three the Hard Way” below: