Comfortable and Furious

Blaxploitation #5: Three the Hard Way (1974)

What the hell are these cats up to? After watching this mess, I only have the vaguest of ideas. I think there are three black dudes (Williamson, Brown and Kelly), who somehow know each other, and they team up to tackle a white supremacist’s genocidal plan to poison the water supply so that only the brothers will die. The opening scenes, in which some black guy is escaping from Somewhere Bad, are particularly murky. Then again, Hard Way is barely coherent, if not full on bonkers from start to finish, but make sure you hang around for the chance to meet The Countess, The Empress and The Princess.

Does it have funky music? It makes the unforgivable mistake of slapping a ballad over the opening credits.

What the fuck?

This is blaxploitation and such syrupy, badly sung shit is way out of place. What’s worse, I can’t even tell if it’s a man or woman assaulting my ears, but I think he/she is trilling about how much Brown loves his lady given it’s played over shots of them doing the lovey-dovey couple thing.


Come back, Curtis Mayfield.

For some reason Brown is a record producer. It does not dovetail into the plot and basically consists of one quite funny scene where he’s trying to get the best out of an upbeat four-man R&B group, who favor clashing turtleneck sweaters and checked slacks. This bunch look like golfers which, as we all know, is not a good look. I dunno, maybe that’s their name. The Singing Golfers. They suck, anyway.

Luckily, the rest of the groovy soundtrack drives things along nicely.

Do I dig the threads? We are back in the seventies so what do you reckon? Williamson, who sported such a luxuriant tash in Boss Nigger, is now clean-shaven, but obviously felt it would be a waste to throw away such a splendid manly creation and has handed it over to Brown for good keeping. On the whole, a commendable move.

Williamson favors suits and not so much open-neck shirts as open-chest shirts. In every shot you can pretty much see his naval, a look that wouldn’t be complete without the requisite gold medallion. This guy could’ve been a Bee Gee.

Kelly turns up last but is equally resplendent in what looks like a beige leather trouser suit with matching boots. He loses marks, though, for a duff tash and the way his afro is trimmed at the sides so his head looks like an inverted triangle.

Best jive talk: I’ve already noticed the same actors (and directors) popping up in blaxploitation. It’s almost as if the other blacks were too busy in the seventies demanding better civil rights or getting thrown down police station stairs to bother with such poofy nonsense as acting.

Anyhow, there’s a guy here that I last saw getting run over and killed in Super Fly. He has no importance whatsoever in this movie (like many of the other actors), but he does like to call Brown ‘baby’. Is this a black thing? I can’t imagine another man, white or black, calling me baby unless he was clamped to my leg and dry-humping it while staring up with pleading eyes.

Is there a racist cop keeping the brothers down? The first white detective featured is the usual, snarly, finger-jabbing type, but doesn’t go in for racial abuse.

However, we only have to wait half an hour for order to be restored when karate expert Kelly turns up. Kelly, so likable in Enter the Dragon, continues to have fun here. He’s called Mister Keyes in that his first name is Mister because his mom wants everyone to treat him with respect. It’s a far-thinking stroke of genius that somehow comes up short in the modern world, especially when (twenty seconds prior to his introduction) a bunch of cops bafflingly plant drugs in his car.

No matter, as Kelly simply kicks the shit out of seven of them in the middle of the street, even though they’re all armed with truncheons and guns. In fact, this is a recurring feature of Hard Way in that his fists always win out against an armed, numerically superior foe.

Sometimes I don’t always believe what I see in the movies.

How are the bitches and hos treated? Pretty damn well. Brown is obviously fond of his fine-looking squeeze and does the right thing by launching an immediate rescue attempt. The kidnapped girl gets slapped around a bit, but the white supremacists wimp out when it comes to secretly fulfilling their desires of feasting on curvaceous black flesh.

But wait, something interesting is afoot. Namely, a bunch of female bikers that dole out the abuse. Now they’re not exactly my idea of a Strong Female Role, but this trio simply has to be witnessed once in your life. They are called in after our heroes get hold of a bad guy. Kelly gives him an off-screen beating in a failed bid to extract information but (like the viewer) is left none the wiser about what the hell’s going on. Then we get an intriguing shot of three color-coordinated, leather-clad bikers driving down the highway, the doorbell rings and a white, Asian and black chick saunter in.

“I’d like you to meet three of my friends,” Williamson tells Kelly. “The Countess, The Empress and The Princess.”

Apparently, they’re here to interrogate the bad guy. Or as The Empress says: “We’re hungry.”

Now I’ve seen a lot of flicks and it’s not often I get surprised, but Hard Way’s next few minutes are a delicious treat. Williamson lays down the ground rules to the sassy, highly confident, vaguely vampiric trio by saying: “You’ve gotta leave enough of him so he can answer some questions for us.”

Jesus wept, what the fuck are they gonna do?

They walk up the stairs and… and… then they’re topless in front of the bad guy, who’s strapped to a chair. Just posturing in front of him with their hands on hips. Of course, he grins at the sight of six bare breasts.

“Slave,” The Countess says, “are you prepared to suffer?”

At this point, he’s not too fazed. “I could look at you all day, baby.”

But then The Princess places a bag on the bed and slowly unzips it…

To add to the surreal nature, Williamson and Kelly remain downstairs playing chess until a scream interrupts. They dash upstairs (past the sweating, panting girls on the landing in their black leather trousers) to find the bad man a blubbering, semi-naked wreck on the floor. Extracting the necessary information then becomes straightforward.

Best of all, we have no idea what the girls did or what they still plan to do.

Hands down, it’s the best scene I’ve stumbled onto in a long time.

Are any hard drugs injected into eyeballs? It’s a drug-free flick. Even the Roller-driving Brown, who works in the music biz, doesn’t indulge in a toot or two. This might be blaxploitation, but I sense its near-relentless emphasis on action is an attempt to portray the brothers in a much less stereotypical way.


Are there any pimps roaming the hood? No. Nor filmmakers who have any idea about quality control or a coherent script.

Is Three the Hard Way any good? Look, from any objective standpoint, it’s junk and yet I thoroughly enjoyed its eighty-five minutes. In fact, it was a head-scratching blast, and I’ll try to give you a sense of its delirious flavor by detailing some scenes.

Despite a long bedside conversation in hospital, the black dude who earlier escaped from Somewhere Bad, only manages to talk to his mate Brown in tantalizing fragments, such as “You’ve gotta stop them. They’re gonna kill us all.” Five minutes later he still hasn’t managed to reveal one telling detail about the white supremacists, like where they’re based or what they’re up to.

For Christ’s sake, man, just spit it out.

The importance of this rambling attempt to warn the world of the black man’s impending Armageddon is somewhat undermined by Brown wearing a shirt with collars so large it looks like he’s trying to grow a pair of wings.

Later, the bad guys go after the seriously wounded escapee by driving a cherry picker up to the hospital at night and clambering in through a conveniently unlocked eighth floor window. They shoot him dead (“So long, you dumb nigger!”) and (for some reason) kidnap Brown’s lady, leaving the same way they came. Amazingly, no one notices.

But why bother with any of these shenanigans if they’re going to wipe out all the blacks via poisoned drinking water in the next day or so?

Then we get to meet the white supremacist leader. His name is Monroe Feather. I shit you not. How can you have a bad guy called Feather? “I know what you’re thinking,” he tells Brown’s lady. “Light as a feather.”

Er, what?

I just couldn’t work out why Feather wants to kill Brown or how he even knows of his existence, but that’s typical of the screenplay. None of the inept guards in the murky opening scenes wear red berets but they become de rigueur soon afterward. Saying that, anything to do with the white supremacists is great, especially their cheap, handmade flag with SS scrawled in its middle. I also like how they skip over the fantastic skill needed to invent a toxin that can only kill the brothers (“This little mixture of mine,” says the racist doc holding up a bottle of red liquid, “is as lethal as cyanide and as selective as a lady buying perfume.”) Well, who cares about scientific veracity when you’ve got this many gunfights, car chases and explosions? One bad guy even blows up for being too close to a small waste paper basket fire.

Do I now have a Tarantinoesque urge to be black? Yes! Brown, Williamson and Kelly are three cool cats. And if I could be any one of them, I might get to find out how The Countess, The Empress and The Princess turn a strong, healthy man into jelly… Help! It’s driving me nuts. Just like the haunted hero at the end of The Vanishing, whatever the cost, I have to know.



, ,