On TCM Underground this Saturday night, the classic movie network has announced that it will air what it calls a “black-to-black baadassss double bill” of films, which includes “Abar, the First Black Superman” (1977) and “Three the Hard Way” (1974). Although it all begins on at 11:15pm PST/2:15am EST, which is why the showcase is called “TCM Underground” (a weekly late-night cult film series airing on Turner Classic Movies). So, unless you happen to up during those hours, you may want to set your DVRs so you can watch later.
I’m not given to hyperbole but Three the Hard Way is the GREATEST BLACK FILM EVER MADE. Period.
As you should know by now, I love Blaxploitation films. I
was raised on Blaxploitation films and still find them an endless source of
excitement and thrills.
Just the image of a black man conquering all
challenges, including racist white villains, still thrills me to no end. Which is why I liked “Django Unchained” so much, because it was nothing more than a straight up
Blaxploitation film writ large. And the final bloody climax
where Django wipes out all those Confederate red necks and slave overseers, was
just a more expansive and bloodier copy of the similar
“wipe-out-every-motherf—–r-in-the-place” climax by Jim Brown, in “Slaughter’s
Big Rip Off.”
But I’ve never been exactly fond of the term “Blaxploitation,” the not-really-so-clever mix of black and exploitation, given to those films from the early to late 1970s. The word exploitation suggests
something 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 secondary films. In many ways, a lot of them were more
profound and substantial than were (and are) given credit for, and they had (and still do have) a major visceral impact on me.
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 the it showed, with
elaborate stunts and set pieces, as well as multi-city on-loaction filming in L.A., Washington D.C., New York and Chicago.
The movie centers on three friends (or as they are
so rightfully called in the trailer for the film below, “The Big Three” ), played by Jim Brown, Fred
Williamson and the late great martial arts legend Jim Kelly, who team up to stop a mad plot by a white supremacist millionaire, who plans to contaminate the
country’s water supply with a special chemical that will poison
and kill off every black person in the U.S.
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 today’s troubled times, doesn’t sound so crazy, given that there are probably rabid white supremacist
groups, salivating at the idea of pulling off a crazy stunt like that, for
The film was the third of only four films directed by
Parks Jr., the 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 “Three the Hard Way,” he was solidly establishing a career as a major filmmaker.
However, it was all unfortunately cut short, when he
was killed in a plane crash in Kenya in 1979, while scouting locations for a
While many still name “Super Fly” as their favorite Gordon Parks Jr film, and one of the best of the Blaxploitation era, I’ll contend that “Three The Hard Way” is his best film – a “final full
bloom” of hardcore black masculinity on the big screen, with Brown,
Williamson and Kelly, because, let’s face it, you couldn’t make a film like it today.