The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Though he has starred in countless films and television shows, I can't say I've seen Billy Dee Williams in more than two or three movies. And yes, those movies are the Star Wars movies. As roguish Lando Calrissian, he left quite the impression, but what about all those other movies? Well, let's start here with 1973's Hit!

A veteran government agent, Nick Allen (Williams) is on a mission. His teenage daughter has died from a heroin overdose, but Allen can find no one who will do anything about the dealer, pushers or suppliers, leaving his daughter's memory haunting him. With no options in front of him, Nick improvises, deciding to take the fight to the drug suppliers in Marseilles. He can't do it by himself though and without the backing of the government, he's forced to recruit an odd team of vigilantes to aid the cause. His incentive to convince these individuals? Each and every one of them has been affected in one way or another by drugs -- themselves, their families, their friends -- so an opportunity to take the war back at the suppliers? Nick has his team but can this unlikely team somehow pull off the impossible mission he has in store for them?

From what I read about this 1973 action flick, it sounded like I was heading into a blaxploitation flick full of black power and white hate. Yeah, about that....nope. I was surprised by what film I ended up getting. From director Sidney J. Furie, 'Hit' is a fun if dark, pretty entertaining movie that does try to deliver a message. Thankfully, it's not overdone. That message? The U.S. government isn't doing enough to curb drug trafficking into the states, if doing anything at all. Williams' Nick Allen hits his breaking point when his daughter dies from an overdose. Even when Nick presents his superiors with a gimme of a case, his requests fall on deaf ears. It isn't the message that's overdone, but instead a script that is a tad too leisurely at 134 minutes.

What's more surprising is the portions of 'Hit' that are far too leisurely. I love a good specialist movie, a good, old-fashioned men-on-a-mission movie, and at its heart that is what this movie is. In seeking out help for his mission overseas, Allen seeks out an odd assortment of people who form the unlikeliest of specialists. His crew includes Mike Willmer (Richard Pryor), a widower who saw his wife raped and murdered by a drug addict, Barry Strong (Paul Hampton), an ex-soldier who got involved in drugs during his tour in Vietnam, Sherry Nielson (Gwen Welles), a prostitute with a heroin addiction, Dutch Schiller (Warren J. Kemmerling), a frustrated cop who keeps seeing his arrests come up empty, and Ida (Janet Brandt) and Herman (Sid Melton), an old married couple that saw their son die because of his drug addiction. An emotional investment in these characters is a positive, but 'Hit' takes far too long in Allen's recruiting. These little episodes just take their time too much. Well over an hour is spent on the recruiting process, leaving the actual mission as almost an after-thought.

Oh, and Billy Dee Williams is very cool. We're talking effortless cool, the same cool he brought to Lando Calrissian a few years later. We see little snippets of his anger poking through, his extreme frustration at a system that allows deaths like his daughter's. As the leader of his specialists and vigilantes, he isn't recruiting mercenaries looking for a payday, just individuals looking for vengeance in one form or another. I liked that dynamic from beginning to end. Of his vigilantes, I especially liked Richard Pryor as the widowed husband who's calm and cool....until you mention his wife. It's a part that has some comedy, some drama and mostly shows what a talent Pryor was bouncing back and forth between the two. The rest of the cast is okay -- I liked Kemmerling as the tough street cop always on the search for a hamburger -- without a ton of star power.

In a crime action-thriller like this, a couple action sequences stand out. The obvious is the Godfather-esque finale, Allen's team unleashing surprise attacks on a handful of very rich, well to do drug suppliers as they go about their daily extravagances in Marseilles. It is a cool sequence, hard-hitting, aggressive and bloody but it feels almost rushed. Solid but could have been better. An early car chase is pretty cool, two hit men trying to knock off Allen before he can put his plan into action.

In general, I liked this movie. It should have been better. I liked its grittiness, its vulgarity in its dialogue, its aggressive qualities across the board. Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor are cool, and really, do you need anything else?

Hit! (1973): ** 1/2 /****

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