American History Ex: The Big Three

American History Ex is an exploratory examination of exploitation film, a continuing column celebrating “low culture.” This month is Blaxploitation History Month.

What better follow-up to the Super Bowl than a 1974 Blaxploitation flick that has absolutely nothing to do with football other than the fact that it stars two former NFL players, one of whom briefly played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If that’s not relevant, then I don’t know what is… and if you ain’t got relevance, you can never ever carry it off…

Jim Brown (The Dirty Dozen, The Split, The Running Man, and former running back for the Cleveland Browns) and Fred Williamson (M*A*S*H, Black Caesar, The Inglorious Bastards, and former defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers/Oakland Raiders/Kansas City Chiefs) star with Jim Kelly (Enter the Dragon, Black Belt Jones… and he played college football but left to study karate) in Three The Hard Way.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Blaxploitation stars, having Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly star in the same movie is on par with having Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris sharing equal billing. It’s kind of a big deal. And you know that they’re gonna kick some serious ass.

Before I get to all the questions this film raises, I should probably explain the plot. A white-supremacist group plans to poison the water supplies in Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, D.C. with a genetic toxin that is harmless to whites but lethal to black folks. But before they can put their plan into action, they mess with the wrong brother, killing Jimmy Lait’s (Jim Brown) friend and kidnapping his woman. Now wise to the scheme, Jimmy recruits his friends Jagger Daniels (Fred Williamson) and Mister Keyes (Jim Kelly) to save the day.

Pretty simple. Still, I have a few questions. What exactly is it that Jimmy Lait did before he became a record producer? I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that record producers don’t typically find themselves in shoot-outs, car chases and attempting to thwart national conspiracies involving mass genocide. What sort of paramilitary connection do these three men have? They’re clearly brothers-in-arms, but it’s never really explained how or why.

All we know is that these are three well-to-do bad-asses. And things just… happen to them. They arbitrarily show up somewhere, without anything resembling an explanation, and are inexplicably attacked. For some reason, Jagger knows three sadomasochistic biker chicks who like parade around topless while they torture dudes. (Imagine the Cenobites from Hellraiser, but more conventionally sexy… you know, with all their skin, ample mammaries and no deadly metallic appendages of any sort.)

Also, the already questionable laws of action movie physics reach some remarkably ludicrous new levels. It’s kinda admirable. And I’m not quite sure how it is that no one ever shoots Mister Keyes while he takes him time doling out ass-whoopin’s. I guess he’s just too cool to get shot.

These aren’t complaints, by the way, just observations and questions. If you know the answers to any of them, please let me know. Not that I really need any, it’s still a good time. Three the Hard Way definitely keeps the “amazing” in “amazingly ridiculous.”

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