Thursday, July 6, 2023

Blu-ray Review: FIGHTING BACK

 by Anthony King

Pride is a b*tch.

In director Lewis Teague's third feature, Fighting Back (1982), Tom Skerritt plays Italian grocer John D'Angelo. His wife Lisa (Patti Lupone) is pregnant with their third child, John's elderly mother lives with them, and it all seems quite idyllic. While driving home from a going away party for a friend, the D'Angelos see a pimp beating a woman. Lisa calls out to the pimp and tells him to stop. She gets out of the car and the argument escalates. After John gets his wife back in the car, they go on their way and soon realize the pimp is following them. A high speed chase through the neighborhood streets of Philadelphia ensues and ends in a car wreck where Lisa miscarries. The next night John's mother and son are caught in a robbery at the pharmacy across the street where the elder D'Angelo's finger is cut off. Soon after the D'Angelos' house is broken into and their dog killed (TW: while we don't see the actual act, the picture of the mutilated dog is quite jarring.) This is where John draws the line. The police are overworked and neglect the Italian neighborhood so crime runs rampant. John and his friends start the People's Neighborhood Patrol (PNP), a neighborhood watch that spills over into vigilantism.
Along with his best friend Vince (Michael Sarrazin), John and the PNP begin to clean up the streets of the neighborhood by any means possible. Violence is always an option, and soon the defender of the neighborhood becomes the instigator. The PNP begins by targeting primarily black and hispanic people until Ivanhoe Washington (Yaphet Kotto), another neighborhood enforcer, steps in to make John realize the life of crime doesn't settle on one color of skin. As things begin to change and the neighborhood starts becoming safer, this grabs the attention of the mayor, the chief of police, and councilmen. John is approached to run for office and begins using his newfound authority to his advantage.

Fighting Back opens in a television studio control room with two reporters cutting together a newsreel akin to The Killing of America (1981) or America Undercover before introducing our protagonists. The few times this sub-plot is included seems inexplicable and, quite frankly, heavy handed. Add this to the fact that the PNP first targets people of color, and how John ends up running for political office, it all seems like propaganda, albeit in an exploitative manner. That said, Fighting Back is pretty damn great. Skerritt is incredible in the role of a man who's had enough. Unlike his Alien (1979) co-star Kotto, I've never found Skerritt to be an intimidating presence who can convincingly embody a tough-guy role. While he's not necessarily a tough guy here, John D'Angelo is certainly a loose cannon, and Skerritt persuasively plays a human powder keg. The final shot of the film is the perfect exclamation point to end Fighting Back.
For the first time on disc, this only-on-VHS movie makes its worldwide debut in a beautiful limited edition Blu-ray package from Arrow Video. With a gorgeous-looking picture and crisp-sounding audio, this is, without a doubt, the best Fighting Back has ever looked or sounded. The disc includes two interviews, both fantastic. First is “Enough is Enough!,” an interview with director Lewis Teague. The nearly-half hour conversation spans Teague's career up to the filming of Fighting Back. With exceptional recall, Teague talks about his time with Roger Corman, his great working relationship with Dino De Laurentis, and the joys and challenges of having to work with an all-Italian crew on the film. Produced by Heather Buckley, this is one of the greatest interviews in recent memory filmed for a disc. The second interview is with camera operator Daniele Nannuzzi. While not as great, mostly because he doesn't remember a lot of the Fighting Back shoot, Nannuzzi does relate some fascinating anecdotes about having to work in the dead of winter on the streets of Philly and New York, as well as stories of how well he and Teague got along together.
Highly underseen (because of its previous unavailability), Fighting Back is a thrilling tale of revenge, inner-city crime, and heritage. Arrow has blessed the world with a stunning presentation that, as far as I'm concerned, is a must-see.

Bonus features
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original lossless mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
“Enough is Enough!” – A new interview with director Lewis Teague (29 min.)
“Danny-Cam” – A new interview with camera operator Daniele Nannuzzi (22 min.)
TV Spot
Image gallery
Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Luke Insect
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Luke Insect
Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critics Rob Skvarla and Walter Chaw, and a career-spanning interview with director Lewis Teague

Blu-ray release date: July 5, 2023
96 minutes / 1982
1.85:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Engish)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Region: A

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