Hit Man

I had heard of HIT MAN (1972) as a “Blaxploitation remake of GET CARTER,” and assumed that meant it was loose and uncredited. In fact it’s an official adaptation of the same 1970 book, Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, and director George Armitage – a Roger Corman acolyte who had written GAS-S-S-S and NIGHT CALL NURSES and directed PRIVATE DUTY NURSES – didn’t even know about the other version until he’d rewritten the script and his agent recognized it. As I mentioned in my GET CARTER review, MGM didn’t do much promotion of the well-reviewed GET CARTER because they had more faith in this version to be a hit. So – although it sounds like he may have started with the same script as GET CARTER (on this point I’m unclear) – I’d still say it’s not a GET CARTER remake, but the first American version of Jack’s Return Home.

Bernie Casey (GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) plays the Jack Carter character, now called Tyrone Tackett. In this version he’s from Oakland visiting L.A., and I swear they say he’s a cop? But he acts the same as the gangster in the other version. Hmm. Strange.

It’s mostly the location and the details that have been changed, so it’s interesting to see similar scenes staged in very different locations. The bed & breakfast is much fancier in this version, and the landlord is not so frumpy (which makes the sex with her seem more standard). I didn’t realize we were at the niece-throws-a-drink-in-the-guy’s-face scene until she yelled “you motherfuckers!” And I was slow to realize that the scenes taking place at a dog fight was an equivalent to the horse track. A lower rent way to abuse and gamble on animals.

That shit is disturbing – man I hope that’s fake blood on those dogs – but I respect it as a novel setting, and this movie is notable for its high number of interesting locations. The crime boss Zito (Don Diamond, IRMA LA DOUCE, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) has a handball court in his mansion, and sort of a living room above it where he and his entourage (including Tyrone when he visits) lounge around with women on their arms and laps, watching out of shape dudes huff and puff and knock the ball around. Basically if you come see this guy you’re gonna have to to change into gym clothes and get all sweaty.

The young hanger-on who starts asking him about his boss for career purposes is Gozelda, played by Pam Grier, credited as Pamela! Gozelda co-stars in a porn movie called YOUNGBLOOD, but she laughs that “I read for a damn good part in SHAFT.” This was a year after SHAFT – when they made it they could never have guessed that nearly fifty years later both SHAFT and Pam Grier herself would be well remembered with about equal footing as icons of the era. Grozelda is not the kind of asskicking character Grier would become known for, and with more emphasis on showing her boobs, but she’s typically great in it – a charming, funny young woman who seems a little oblivious to the horrible business she’s become involved in.

At one point we’re surprised by some lions, before realizing that we’re at a wildlife preserve called Africa America. And then there’s a walk through that weird park at the Watts Towers – I’ve seen that place in movies before, including another one starring Bernie Casey (DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE), but it’s a really cool place to set a scene. Oh, also Tyrone shoots a guy in front of some real elephants! Seems like that could get a guy stomped.

Tyrone hangs out with his brother’s business partner Sherwood (Sam Laws, WALKING TALL, TRUCK TURNER, THE FURY, WHITE DOG), who is a fun time. He’s a used car salesman who has trouble filming his commercials because he can’t stop from saying things like “for you prestige motherfuckers…” They get drunk together and drive around and I guess I’ve never seen Bernie Casey play drunk before because this is the only time when I’ve seen him be too much before. A total cartoon. It’s weird.

I’m confused about Tyrone’s background. I thought someone said, “Word was you a police in Oakland.” IMDb calls him a lawyer. Wikipedia calls him a hitman. But it’s indicated at the end that he is or has been involved in recruiting young women for porn movies himself. “How many fifteen, sixteen year olds did you pull?” (I noticed the same lingo of “pull” was used, thought it was from the book, but that was before I thought these might’ve started with the same script.) There’s also some (possibly intentional) hypocrisy because of an earlier scene where Sherwood has been beat up and is being tended to by a very young woman, and Tyrone laughs about Sherwood getting “to mess with that young stuff.”

Roger E. Mosley is also in it, and the sniper ready to kill him at the end – a mysterious unseen character in GET CARTER – is an uncredited Paul Gleason (EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR, DIE HARD). And it goes without saying that there’s a funky soundtrack. It’s by H.B. Barnum, a pianist who also did FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE and Jamaa Fanaka’s EMMA MAE. It’s good, with a catchy theme song about how awesome he is, but this may be the only time in history where I prefer the soundtrack to the white people version of the same story! That’s just a great soundtrack, though – not a knock on Mr. Barnum.

In a great Film Comment interview with Nick Pinkerton, Armitage recalled that he didn’t think a white director should make this movie, and campaigned for Casey to direct it himself, but relented when producer Gene Corman was going to call the whole thing off. The director says there was alot of improvisation, and “the actors brought so much in terms of dialogue and honesty.” I wonder if that’s why you get beautiful period slang like “I got a love jones” and “Don’t try and sell me no wolf tickets, man!”?

Armitage went on to a very notable, if not prolific, career, directing VIGILANTE FORCE, the tv movie HOT ROD, MIAMI BLUES and GROSSE POINTE BLANK. He’s still kicking but hasn’t had a film since 2004’s THE BIG BOUNCE, which he feels was good before the studio took it away from him and cut to a PG-13.

This trailer sure isn’t worried about spoilers:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 29th, 2020 at 11:14 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “Hit Man”

  1. I can’t believe those bastards put that amazing lion scene in the trailer.

  2. They use that “wolf tickets” expression in “The Wire” too. I don’t even know what it means. That and “you a police in Oakland” got me thinking of that show, which reminded me that they took a line from “Night Moves” in such a way I’m not sure if it’s still a quote or just a stolen line – like “True Detective” stole from “Top Ten”.

    I don’t know why I went on that tangent. Anyway, I haven’t seen “Hit Man”, kinda want to now.

  3. There are so many current cultural shorthands that I hate, but I have to invoke one of them here: “Release the Armitage Cut” of The Big Bounce! Because, on paper, that movie sounded amazing (what a cast!) but was totally underwhelming in practice. Miami Blues and Grosse Pointe Blank were good enough that I could believe Armitage’s version was better than the studio’s.

  4. I believe “wolf tickets” means, like, false promises, but that’s just what I’ve picked up from context. It’s never been a saying that found its way into my lexicon.

  5. “Selling wolf tickets” = talking shit, basically, with an extra edge of scammery. I first heard the phrase from Tom Waits, either in a song or an interview, I can’t remember.

  6. Yep Tom Waits says it in “Trouble’s Braids” off of Swordfishtrombones- “stayin off the main roads passim’ out wolf tickets downwind from the bloodhounds”.

  7. Thanks for the clarification!

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