Fighting Back


Detroit Free Press (MI) - May 25, 1982
Author: DIANE HAITHMAN Free Press Staff Writer

It’s hard to tell whether Lewis Teague’s "Fighting Back" is an indictment or a celebration of some of the nastiest, most shocking violence you’ll see on the screen this year. Either way, I’d just as soon have missed it.

Tom Skerritt plays John D’Angelo, a nice enough fellow content to run his grocery shop in a rapidly disintegrating, middle-class Italian neighborhood. But after several violent attacks on his family by neighborhood predators, D’Angelo decides to take the law into his own hands and organizes the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, dedicated to protecting the residents of the area at all costs. They are like the Guardian Angels, but older and much, much meaner.

IT’S A SCARY MOVIE , from the opening sequence of documentary film clips recording America’s last two shameful decades of assassinations and riots all the way to the lunatic vengeance of its ending. It’s all true, and we know it.

And there is no good guy. D’Angelo, who starts out a hero, soon grows obsessively fond of violence as he falls deeper into the belief that he is some kind of righteous god. The issue of whether self-appointed crime stoppers are infringing on civil rights, much in the news these days, looms abundantly clear.

Still, although the film pays lip service to the controversial aspects of vigilantism, there is also a calculated awareness on the part of the filmmakers that the violence itself, not the glibly constructed moral dilemmas, will have them cheering and screaming in the theater. And they do. They laugh , too. That is the film’s most frightening aspect. And it’s frightening that technically, movie violence has risen to the fine art we see here. It’s much, much too good.

OF COURSE, one might argue that you can’t tell a story about violence without violence. But these are horror movie tactics: What terrible thing will happen to the D’Angelos next? What’s behind the door? What nasty object have the neighborhood terrorists hidden behind the shower curtain? Can we invent an act so brutal that the audience has never seen the likes of it before?

It may be possible to make a film about our violent times without exploitation, but this definitely isn’t it. "Fighting Back" is a gruesome, twisted orchestra that is not a statement on our culture, but a symptom of it.


Area theaters

John D’Angelo........ Tom Skerritt

Lisa D’Angelo........ Patti LuPone

Vince Morelli........ Michael Sarrazin

Lilly Morelli........ Patch Mackenzie

Ivanhoe Washington........ Yaphet Kotto

Donato........ Peter Brocco

Police Chief Freeman........ Earle Hyman

Produced by Constantine Conte; directed by Lewis Teague; written by Tom Hedley and David Goodman; photography by Franco DiGiacomo, music by Piero Piccioni.

PARENTS’ GUIDE: Rated R; gruesome violence, lots of profanity, partial female nudity.



Boston Globe - May 26, 1982
Author: Michael Blowen Globe Staff

" FIGHTING BACK " - A film directed by Lewis Teague, written by Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman, starring Tom Skerritt, Patti LuPone, Michael Sarrazin and Yaphet Kotto, a Dino De Laurentiis production of a Paramount release, at the Cheri and suburbs, rated R.

Thugs, pimps, drug pushers, burglars and gangsters have invaded John D’Angelo’s Philadelphia neighborhood and he is hopping mad about it.

How do you know that John dislikes his new neighbors?

Easy. He drives around the city in a vigilante patrol car bashing the heads of blacks and throwing Puerto Ricans through the second story windows of burning warehouses.

The good guys are Caucasians who want to clean up the parks, the bars and the streets and the black guys drink beer in the playgrounds, spend all night in the bars and use the streets to make drug deals and rent their hookers.

The Caucasians love their wives and mothers and the black guys seem to like nothing more than slapping women around.

" Fighting Back " plays to the prejudice of whites against blacks and deals in cultural stereotypes. The black guys beat up D’Angelo’s mother and murder his dog.

Is this racism in the cinema?

Of course not, assert the producers in a press release. It’s just the story of the "steady, ever-increasing assaults on his (D’Angelo’s) lifestyle."

Aside from the obvious sociological implications, " Fighting Back " is a simple-minded, poorly conceived exploitation film that deserves to die. In fact, if it opens in your neighborhood, you just might want to organize your own vigilante committee and run it out of town. As John D’Angelo says, "Enough is enough.



Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - May 26, 1982

By Desmond Ryan

Inquirer Movie Critic

Lewis Teague’s Fighting Back , which contains such curiosities as a living Philadelphia mob leader, is a film about vigilantism that succumbs to its own peculiar death wish. After conferring on its hero ample reason for the pursuit of vengeance and
righteous justice, Teague’s film shows initial signs of interest in the moral, legal and political issues involved in taking the law into one’s own hands.

Such points are, of course, conspicuously absent from the two Death Wish movies. Sadly, however, the crude appeal to bloodlust that makes the Charles Bronson films so popular ultimately proves too attractive to the people responsible for Fighting Back . In John D’Angelo (Tom Skerritt), screenwriters Tom Hedley and David Goodman have created a character with more potential for subtle development than Bronson’s Paul Kersey. The latter is dead to the world and thus suited to the uncanny immobility of Bronson’s face. John D’Angelo’s rage is of a more channeled nature, and Hedley and Goodman have tried to present him as being out of his depth. So are they.

D’Angelo is a grocer enraged at the drug peddling and other crime that infest his South Philadelphia neighborhood. He is moved to action when his wife has a miscarriage after an argument with the local pimp and his mother has her finger cut off by a robber who wants to take her ring. He gathers other concerned businessmen and even a couple of police officers to join him in an organized neighborhood patrol. At this juncture, the film faces a fork in the road and takes the wrong turn. The borderline between citizen participation and vigilantism - the dispensing of punishment outside of the legal process - is a fine one. It is a line that becomes even more blurred in battle zones such as D’Angelo’s neighborhood. The effect such a situation has on ordinary people, all with their measure of anger and prejudice, is what Fighting Back should be about. Instead, the movie only alludes to such matters and makes D’Angelo’s vengeance its main theme.

In this reading, his enemies have to include those who run the system -crooked politicians and hostile police officials. A system that is in real life inept and unresponsive is perceived as downright malevolent for the convenience of the film. Fighting Back makes no effort to explain or justify its views. Teague’s film is a simple-minded view of an intriguing subject. Here and there, it brushes against something important - as in D’Angelo’s meetings with a black community leader - but it is hard to make a complex point while wielding a baseball bat.

It is D’Angelo’s weapon and a fitting symbol for the film. Teague, who directed the tongue-in-cheek horror film Alligator , has considerable technical verve but no discernible opinion on the issues of the story. The cast, led by Skerritt and Patti LuPone, who plays his wife, is much better than one normally encounters in this kind of movie and their talent is a galling reminder of the film’s missed potential. The location sites in Philadelphia are a stiff antidote to Rocky-like celebrations of the city. The mob chieftain, who is still alive at the end of the film, tells D’Angelo that his organization does not deal in drugs - a claim that sits well with the rather bizarre view of the city to be found in Fighting Back.

Produced by D. Constantine Conte; directed by Lewis Teague; written by Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman; photography by Franco DiGiacomo; music by Piero Piccioni; distributed by Paramount Pictures; running time, 1 hour, 35 min

John D’Angelo--Tom Skerritt

Lisa D’Angelo--Patti LuPone

Vince Morelli--Michael Sarrazin

Ivanhoe Washington--Yaphet Kotto

Parents’ guide: R (violence)

Motley ’Fighting Back ’
Washington Post, The (DC) - May 26, 1982
Author: Gary Arnold

" Fighting Back " is a lurid glorification of urban vigilantism remotely inspired by the career of Anthony Imperiale, the charismatic community leader of riled and fearful Italian-American residents in Newark in the late ’60s. Imperiale himself is recalled in newsreel clips in the course of the movie, which opens for no justifiable reason with a medley of traumatic documentary footage, from the assassination of President Kennedy through the assassination attempts on President Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

The protagonist is an indignant raging bull called John D’Angelo, the owner of an Italian-American deli and catering service in Philadelphia. When his pregnant wife and elderly mother are severely injured by local riffraff, D’Angelo organizes a volunteer protective service, the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, and proceeds to ride roughshod over pimps, pushers and muggers. While there are murmurs of skepticism and disapproval from certain representatives of the police and the city government, the opposition seems to have been mysteriously disarmed by D’Angelo’s shock tactics. With everyone from the police commissioner to the local godfather guaranteeing tacit approval, D’Angelo climaxes his campaign by firebombing three bad hombres, a terroristic beau geste that supposedly restores peace and security to his home town.

There are fleeting indications that the filmmakers--director Lewis Teague, who did a creditable job with John Sayles’ witty "Alligator" last year, and screenwriters Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman--recognize traces of demagoguery, racism and willful ignorance in their protagonist, who’s occasionally taken to task for flying dangerously off the handle.

Dynamic leading roles are no doubt a temptation for any actor, but Tom Skerritt would have been wiser to resist the forceful indignity of D’Angelo. It’s a De Niro-reject sort of role that doesn’t suit Skerritt’s reserved, watchful personality, a reliable source of calm, rational strength in four earlier movies--"M*A*S*H," "Fuzz," "The Turning Point" and "Alien." He looks acutely miscast as a wrathful brawler and compares most unfavorably as a potential leader of men with the corpulent but commanding Imperiale, who imposes more authority in about 20 seconds of old clips than Skerritt can generate with an entire runaway vehicle at his disposal.

In fact, a good deal of acting talent is wasted on negligible or disreputable material in " Fighting Back ." Patti LuPone, the original "Evita," gets her first substantial movie role as D’Angelo’s wife, and there’s something compelling about her oversized features and aura of discontent. Still, the interesting hints of marital tension that she suggests are strictly gratuitous shades of characterization.

Michael Sarrazin, whose career took an unfortunate detour at least a decade ago, has been improbably cast as D’Angelo’s best friend, an Italian-American cop, but he emerges as a more attractive figure by embodying the self-control and sense of social responsibility that the hero lacks. One of Skerritt’s crewmates from "Alien," Yaphet Kotto, heads a formidable auxiliary of black actors in superficial supporting roles. Kotto turns up as a community organizer called Ivanhoe Washington, a character about as loosely related to Leroi Jones as John D’Angelo is related to Anthony Imperiale. Ted Ross of "The Wiz" and "Arthur" makes a light snack of the smoothly corrupt police commissioner, while Jim Moody, who gave "Fame" a glimmer of educational reality as the drama teacher, confirms the good impression as a black businessman aligned with the predominantly white People’s Neighborhood Patrol.

All of them are impressively overqualified for the minimal, motley quality of illusion that " Fighting Back " is content to confuse with effective contemporary melodrama.

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