Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly… all on screen at the same time. Does it get any better than this my friends? Probably, but for this articles sake, let’s go ahead and say ‘no, it cannot get any better than that Christopher’. The name of the film that tries to corral these three overpowering personalities is director Gordon Park’s ‘Three the Hard Way’, and the word ‘classic’ was invented for a movie just like this. Okay, probably not, but for the sake of this article, let us agree this is the proper use of the word ‘classic’. Thank you for your cooperation.

Jimmy Lait (Brown) is a simple man. All he wants to do is make hit records, drive his Rolls Royce convertible, and go for slow walks in the park with his girl Wendy (Shelia Fraizer)… until that fateful afternoon. This day, Jimmy discovers his friend House (Junero Jennings) bleeding out in the back of a car, having just escaped the compound of some seriously evil people. In the hospital House claims that they are trying to kill us all, but he’s out of his mind, talking crazy. Jimmy wanted to be there for his boy, but he had things to do so Wendy stayed behind to keep an eye on things. Then The Man killed House and kidnapped Wendy. In the history of bad moves by bad people, taking Wendy was one of the worst.

Jimmy has to work some things out, in between crazy white people wearing red beret’s trying to kill him, so he heads to Chicago to round up his boy Jagger (Williamson). Crazy white people in red beret’s try to kill him too. Note that these crazy white people suck at this. Then it’s off to B-more to snatch up Mister Keyes (Kelly) who is in the process of beating the bejeezus out of another slew of crazy white people, all in glorious slow motion.

But why are these crazy white folks trying to kill these three men? For that we need to introduce you to Monroe Feather (Jay Robinson), and his evil genius partner Dr. Fortero (Richard Angarola). Mr. Feather hates black people, and brown people, and light brown people… let’s just say if you have a slight tint, Mr. Feather hates you. And Mr. Feather has a plan to kill these tinted people he hates so much. And it’s one of the more nefarious and ingenious plans in all of cinematic history.

Mr. Feather’s plan does have a few issues. First there’s Wendy who keeps reminding him constantly and shrilly that Jimmy and his boys and are going to kill him. Then there’s Jimmy, Jagger and Mister who are completely laying waste to Mr. Feather’s mindless minions, but the worst thing for Mister Feather are these mindless minions of his. Worst. Minions. Ever. If Mr. Feather had relaxed a bit on kidnapping black folks off the street, building porous compounds, funding suspect science and designing awesome looking fascist symbols, and redirected some of these fund to a little something called ‘target practice’, America would be looking a lot different right about now. As it stands his compound has been penetrated by three angry black dudes, just like Wendy told him while yelling in his ear, and while it looks like his 500 or so heavily armed troops should have the upper hand against two black dudes with hand guns, and one who refuses to touch a gun because he’s so lethal with his hands, they don’t. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I’m guessing The Man is gonna get his, and Jimmy will be going on slow walks in the park with his girl real soon.

So while ‘Truck Turner’ is my favorite film of the blaxploitation era, ‘Three the Hard Way’ is a close second. ‘Three the Hard Way’ is a movie that completely embodies the blaxploitation era, with the added bonus of filmmaking competence. No boom mics show up, the edits are relatively seamless and no flubbed lines. Trust me, Jim Kelly isn’t messing up those lines, that’s just the way that my man delivers them. What we do have are heroes that are complete and total badasses, we have a plot device that is so insane that it should be experienced by all, we have lots and lots of ‘sticking it to whitey’, and we have action. Oh my, do we have action.

After we get through Jimmy enjoying his long, drawn out afternoons in the park with Wendy, followed by Jimmy completely berating his group The Impressions on their lack of enthusiasm during the studio session, the action in this movie is non-stop. Fist fights, shootouts, car chases, explosions, electrocutions, lots of people falling off cliffs, plenty of kung-fu fighting, followed by more explosions with a few more explosions added in for good measure. To be honest with you there was probably too much action in ‘Three the Hard Way’. While we’re not actively petitioning the late, great Gordon Parks to have focused more on the thespian abilities of Brown, Kelly, Williamson… though The Hammer does possess a cinematic charm matched by few… I would’ve loved to have spent more time with Mr. Feather and his haughty Nazi girlfriend. These characters were so cartoonish and so funny that every minute spent with them was comedy gold. And why the topless biker sado-masochism queens the Empress, the Countess and the Princess didn’t get their own spin-off movie… truly one of the great criminal oversights in the history of movies.

It took long enough but Warner Brothers has finally put this classic on DVD, albeit a no-frills DVD consisting of absolutely no commentary or anything like that, and jammed in with three other films of the era. We would’ve loved to have known the conceptual genius behind this one, and the genesis of Jay Robinson’s Mr. Feather. I’m thinking Evil Genius from those Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, but I guess we’ll never know.

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