Having just collaborated on the hit bio-pic LADY SINGS THE BLUES, the rising star and male lead from that film (Billy Dee Williams), along with other members of its cast, re-teamed with the film’s director (Sidney J. Furie) for this inventive action thriller which is basically a variation on THE FRENCH CONNECTION. A Paramount Pictures release, Olive Films now bows HIT! on Blu-Ray disc (as well as releasing the HD transfer on DVD for the first time).
In the Washington D.C. area, a 15-year old girl dies tragically after her thoughtless dealer boyfriend shoots her up with heroin for a quick fix. The girl’s grieving father, government agent Nick Allen (Billy Dee Williams, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), decides not to take his director’s (Norman Burton, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) advice to accept a promotion and take a vacation to Hawaii; he’d rather avenge his daughter’s senseless death. But instead of targeting the local pushers, he’s decided to go straight to the source; the drug kingpins in Marseille, France who are responsible for the heroin shipments coming to our shores and being distributed on American streets. Although the government director agreeably plays dumb to Nick’s rebellious plan, he sends two trigger happy agents on his tail, and Nick is constantly looking over his shoulder and trying (rather successfully) to dodge them.
Nick’s detective friend Dutch Schiller (Warren J. Kemmerling, EAT MY DUST), who employs “Dirty Harry” type methods to interrogate sleazeball criminals, has had enough of the injustice in his department, and goes rogue, traveling to Marceille to feel the place out and set up an intricate plan to take out the drug lords there. In the meantime, using top secret information an old girlfriend was able to obtain for him, Nick seeks out a number of varied citizens whose lives have all been affected in some way by heroin. This includes a redheaded junky prostitute (Gwen Welles, NASHVILLE), a beer-loving college professor (Paul Hampton, SHIVERS) a widower construction worker (Richard Pryor, who was also in LADY SINGS THE BLUES) and an aging, endearing Jewish couple (Sid Melton and Janet Brandt). Lying about the mission being government mandated, he convinces all to sail to a deserted area in British Columbia, go through some vigorous training and preparing, and then go to France to pull off a plan of serial execution.
Early in his career, Canadian-born director Sidney J. Furie worked on low budget British horror films such as DR. BLOOD’S COFFIN and THE SNAKE WOMAN, but he was also responsible for trendier British pictures like THE LEATHER BOYS. He had a major success with the Michael Caine/Harry Palmer entry, THE IPCRESS FILE in the mid 1960s, proving himself adept at action thrillers, though he dabbled in just about every possible genre as a filmmaker. With its long running time (2 hours and 15 minutes), HIT! is a well constructed piece of 1970s cinema which carefully develops its characters and it allows for some memorable performances. As far-fetched as the story is, the plot is intriguingly weaved together and the rousing payoff (a series of bloody hits, all taking place around the same time in close proximity) is gratifying.
The film starts off by shifting the action from the United States to France — it is there that we are introduced to the rich-living, nauseating crime lords, both male and female, who pig out and complain about the blandness of their food or use their societal magnitude for sexual favors. Back in the States is where Nick sets up his plan of action, and Williams gives a very concentrated performance as the fed-up renegade who uses psychological tactics to recruit his hesitant motley crew, and he later has to employ reverse psychology when they threaten to abandon him (after they discover he’s no longer actually working for the government). The ads for HIT! made it look like a typical cookie cutter blaxploitation piece, but it certainly has a lot more depth than you’d expect, and even though the action is limited to key scenes doesn’t mean that the film isn’t thoroughly enjoyable.
In the supporting role of Mike Millmer, comedian Richard Pryor skillfully makes light of a serious character (his young wife murdered when she got in the way of a junkie’s gunplay) without going overboard, and he even embraces an improvisational style in some scenes, allowing him to throw around a lot of four letter words (which much of the cast does anyway). In a nod to Francis Ford Coppola’s recent smash with the studio, Paramount’s THE GODFATHER can be seen playing in a French theater, as a victim takes a gunshot in the face. There’s a fun bit of product placement for McDonalds (Dutch is crazy for hamburgers) but the profanity used to praise the fast food chain would never fly in this day and age of politically correct marketing. Lalo Schifrin provides his usual excellent score.
One of the best things about having HIT! out on Blu-Ray is that you can see it in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (with anamorphic enhancement) as past TV and VHS transfers were hideously panned and scanned. Presented in 1080p resolution, detail is sharp throughout, with colors being bold and distinct, and there's minor grain evident in the darker scenes. The transfer has some fleeting speckles, but it's sufficiently clean overall. The mono audio comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio English track, and sounds fine, though some of the dialog appears low in parts. No subtitle options here, but English subtitles pop up on screen when characters are speaking in French (and who ever keyed in the subtitling is responsible for a number of noticeable typos). (George R. Reis)
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