Color, 1982, 96 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Lewis Teague
Starring Tom Skerritt, Patti LuPone, Michael Sarrazin, Yaphet Kotto, David Rasche
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Despite the flood of Death Wish imitators that came out around the world in the wake of that 1974 Charles Bronson hit, its producer, Dino De Laurentiis, and studio, Paramount Pictures, took a while to go back to that well themselves. In 1982 they delivered an Italian-American take on the concept, Fighting Back, around the same time Dino was busy working on Conan the Barbarian; in fact, it was conveniently timed to open a few months after the non-Dino Death Wish II, which amped up the violence considerably.
In this case we also get an Alien reunion of Tom Skerritt and Yaphet Kotto, with the former handling starring duties as John D'Angelo, a proud American, family man, and local business owner running a deli in Philadelphia. While out for a family drive, John's pregnant wife, Lisa (Broadway legend LuPone), jumps out of the car to confront a pimp brutally beating one of his prostitutes. The altercation soon escalates into a car chase and ends in a crash that causes Lisa to lose the baby. More tragedy strikes when John's elderly mother is killed by robbers at a convenience store, and deciding he's had enough with the skyrocketing crime rate, he and cop buddy Vince (Sarrazin) spearhead the founding of PNP (the People's Neighborhood Patrol). Sort of a very aggressive version of neighborhood watch, the organization starts to cross the line into full-blown vigilante outfit as the members, encouraged by local support, operate by their own rules to clean up the city.
Featuring a focus on media coverage, racial inequality, and law enforcement with real-life footage thrown into the mix, Fighting Back feels a bit more like a prestige film than its sleazier indie counterparts -- though it does make time for plenty of fights and car chases where it counts. Director Lewis Teague had just come out of the Roger Corman ranks with The Lady in Red and scored a word-of-mouth success with Alligator, and this proved his worth enough to land a pair of back-to-back Stephen King gigs with Cujo and another De Laurentiis production, Cat's Eye. The gritty Philly locations are a major asset here with the film getting tons of neighborhood coverage, giving it a sense of local identity largely missing from studio films these days. On top of that Skerritt makes for a solid leading man as always, more grounded and believable than the action heroes spouting one liners who would become the tradition starting just after this with Sudden Impact. Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is the choice of composer, the great Piero Piccioni, who delivered a ton of material with only a small fraction ending up in the finished film. (Luckily an expansive two-CD release saw the light of day in 2016.)
A very familiar mainstay on cable TV throughout the '80s (along with other Paramount staples like King of the Gypsies and Lipstick), Fighting Back mostly faded away after that with its VHS release from Paramount mostly disappearing as well. The film was very tricky to see until the 2023 Blu-ray from Arrow Video featuring a very nice HD scan that easily outdoes the old SD master most folks saw for decades. The film's icy exteriors (a mixture of Philadelphia and an incognito New York City) look great here, and the colors are robust and accurate to the period. The LPCM English 2.0 mono track is also in excellent shape and features optional English SDH subtitles. A very entertaining new video interview with Teague, "Enough Is Enough" (28m59s), covers not only this film but his entire early career including stories about Corman, Alligator, John Sayles, his break into directing, and his memories of De Laurentiis. Then in "DANNY-Cam" (22m8s), camera operator Daniele Nannuzzi recalls his lifelong friendship with Di Laurentiis, the unusually freezing shooting conditions in New York, and his experiences filming in Little Italy with Italian-American crew members. Also included are a VHS-sourced U.K. trailer (as Death Vengeance), a TV spot, and a 15-image gallery, while the packaging comes with a double-sided fold-out poster and a booklet with new essays by Rob Skvarla and Walter Chaw plus a text interview with Teague.
Reviewed on June 22, 2023