Happiness is a Warm Gun

I’ll begin my vigilante film reviews with a couple titles that differ slightly from the conventional, Bronson-style shoot ’em up. Don’t worry, I will get around to examining the Death Wish films at some point. Especially the one with the grenade launcher.


Fighting Back (1982)

Directed by Lewis Teague, the man who brought us Alligator and Cujo, Fighting Back is an obscure yet interesting entry in the 80s vigilante movement.

Tom Skerritt plays John D’Angelo, a family man who owns a deli in an old Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia. When a chance run in with a local pimp results in his wife (Patti LuPone) having a miscarriage, D’Angelo quickly discovers that the law is of little help. Even his best friend Vince (Michael Sarrazin), a local cop, admits to being “chicken shit” when confronted by all the lowlifes hanging around in the park. When a couple robbers make off with his mom’s ring finger, D’Angelo is finally pushed too far. Rather than embarking on a bloody one-man killing spree, he instead forms a neighborhood watch council to patrol the neighborhood.

The patrols often involve unprovoked attacks on local watering holes, which rile up the criminals. Meanwhile, local politicians grow concerned about D’Angelo’s increasing stature as a local hero. Eventually things come to a head, and D’Angelo is forced to choose between his family, his nefarious vigilante activities, and a potential career in politics.

Fighting Back is a flawed film, but it has its moments. More of a drama than an action flick, it is similar in tone to the first Death Wish film, but otherwise is distinguishable by its emphasis on political and social machinations. I’m normally a fan of Tom Skerrit, but here I found his Philly accent to be a bit forced. The fact that D’Angelo refuses to leave town to protect his family out of pride, and the way he barks orders at everyone makes him come across as less than sympathetic at times. Still, if Skerritt’s aim was to depict a flawed character under pressure, he did a good job.

The supporting cast is also good, including Yahpet Kotto (who famously co-starred with Skerritt in Alien) in a bizarre turn as a community activist/modern dance instructor (!) who rebuffs D’Angelos requests for help because he feels the other man is a “fucking racist.” It’s good that Teague decided to show this viewpoint, as the subject of racism is valid when dealing with films about angry white men killing criminals who often end up being poor and black- but the character is never developed, and seems like a mere cameo to lend the picture some street cred.

Fighting Back has never been released on DVD, and it’s difficult to track down on VHS. I was lucky enough to find a download on the Internets, but this is one title that deserves to be released into the digital age, warts and all.


3 Responses to “Happiness is a Warm Gun”

  1. Dude, WTF? No one outside of my friends back East ever talks about this film. “Rocky” and “The Sixth Sense” were sort of the crowning achievmenets of popular films made in Philadelphia, but I’ve always liked “Fighting Back.” It’s a really raw movie.

  2. Cool. I didn’t think I knew anyone who had seen it.

    I figured as I was watching it that it took place in NYC, but about halfway through I realized where they were. Is Philly really that scummy? No offense meant, there are some nasty parts of Cleveland and Akron, where I’m from.

  3. It’s scummy when you visit. But when you live there, it doesn’t seem like a war-zone or anything. Just a place you know.

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