Three the Hard Way

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Mr. Feather: Hello, I'm Mr. Feather. I know what you're thinking. Light as a feather.
Wendy: Mister, you don't have the slightest idea what I'm thinking.

1974's Three the Hard Way is one of the best of the 1970s Blaxploitation films, in which three men have to stop a genocidal maniac from killing all of the blacks in three American cities.

A black man, whose name we discover later is House, escapes from what appears to be a prison (he's moving a food tray from cell to cell, he's being escorted by an armed guard, and he breaks out of a cell), and is shot in the process. He kidnaps a couple of Make-Out Kids from a vacant lot nearby to drive him to see Jimmy Lait, a wealthy (black) friend who puts him in a hospital. Jimmy's girlfriend, Wendy, persuades him to go back to his recording studio so his work can keep being done; she can watch House and call Jimmy if anything changes. It turns out House was being held at an armed compound of a wealthy man, not a prison. Some men from the compound go to the hospital, use a cherry picker to sneak into his room undetected, and assassinate him. Wendy walks into his room just after he's killed, and the men kidnap her.

Jimmy goes to Chicago, visits a (black) friend Jagger to ask for help, and is ambushed by more of the men from the compound. They go to New York to get a third (black) friend named Mister Keyes for more assistance, and are attacked a third time. This time, one of the henchmen survive long enough to be interrogated.

The only reason it's being noted here that the three major characters are black is that, remember, this is a blaxploitation film, so the heroes are (usually all) black and the bad guys are (usually all) white.

Through various actions, they discover that the compound from which House escaped is that of Mr. Feather, a rich white supremacist who has hired a scientist to develop a chemical that can be released into the public water supply, that will kill negroes. Only negroes. The white supremacist is targeting three cities: Washington DC, Los Angeles and Detroit; cities with very high black populations.

It's indeed three the hard way: three men, three cities, and a race to stop a genocidal attack before it's too late. Oh yeah, and get Jimmy's woman, Wendy, back from Feather.

Tropes used in Three the Hard Way include:
  • Angry White Man: Inverted in the case of Feather; he's unfailingly polite. Even though he's a white supremacist, when he talks to Wendy (who is black, and quite rightfully pissed off for being kidnapped by Feather), he never raises his voice or shows the slightest amount of anger or hatred, even though (in other scenes) he's delighted to learn they've developed a method of genocide which will kill millions of black people. Except at the end when the three heroes have gotten to Feather's compound, he's scared and says to one of his mooks to "bring the black bitch" so he can use Wendy as a bargaining chip to escape with his life.
  • Asskicking Pose: Mister Keyes uses this before he beats up the crooked cops who tried to frame him.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Subverted; House kills one of the white guards at Feather's compound while escaping; this is the first death in the film.
  • Butch Lesbian: One of Feather's mooks is a woman who manhandles Wendy when moving her around, but it's obvious that she'd like to do a few "fun" things to Wendy if Feather would have allowed it.
  • California Doubling: While in Chicago, Jimmy and Jagger escape being killed by mooks; they chase one out of an elevated train station, around a building and into an amusement arcade. The arcade is The Pike, part of an amusement park that was in Long Beach, California from about 1930 to 1990.
  • Did Not Do the Research: The mooks attempt to attack a water processing plant, with a sign next to a stairway that reads "Water Department, District of Columbia". The District Water and Sewer Authority's Web site reports that the water processing agency during the 1970s was called the "District of Columbia Department of Sanitary Engineering".
  • Dirty Cop: The police plant drugs in Mister Keyes' car, then proceed to bust him. The police end up painfully regretting the attempt to frame him.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto:
    • Two full-sized cars full of mooks are chasing Jimmy through a parking garage. They hit a lot of other cars, but are still able, when they get to the top floor, to be driving fast enough smash through a cinder-block wall and plummet to the ground. One of the cars explodes just from crossing over the wall, the other explodes when it hits the ground. The first car has a second, even bigger explosion when it hits the ground.
    • Jimmy is tricked into visiting a phone booth on a vacant lot, and some mooks run him down (destroying the steel and glass booth) with a dump truck. He survives, climbs over the top and throws the passenger mook out the door, while the driver is shooting at the door and roof. The dump truck rolls up a ramp, and explodes when it hits the cardboard front of a billboard.
  • Fan Service: When the three chicks on motorcycles (see Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique below) start to try to persuade the Mooks to talk, they go into the room, and after Jagger and Keyes leave, they strip to the waist, showing bare breasts. When they come out to tell Jagger and Keyes that he's ready to talk, the women are covered in sweat, and are still stripped to the waist.
  • Genre Blind: Feather announces to the assembled crowd about their successes with the genocide, and that nothing on earth can stop them now, while blissfully unaware that the three men have killed all the mooks he sent out to the three cities, the genocide never took place, and the heroes are coming to get him.
  • Genre Savvy: When Feather discovers The three men have found his compound and are approaching, he orders his scientist to destroy all of his records and notes so that there will be no evidence of his attempts to commit genocide.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Mister Keyes only uses Kung Fu on mooks; he never uses a gun.
  • Hero Antagonist: The three men have to stop Feather from implementing his plan to kill millions of black people.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!
    • Alex Rocco plays a cop in Los Angeles. Close your eyes and he sounds exactly, by attitude, like his portrayal of Moe Greene in The Godfather.
    • The boy in the Make-Out Kids example, is played by Corbin Bernsen, who would later go on to play skirt chasing divorce lawyer Arnold Becker in L.A. Law.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The mooks are typically using fully automatic machine guns or semi-automatic pistols at near point-blank range, and the mooks almost always miss.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The good guys' weapons are glorified cap pistols or just barely above BB rifles, kill instantly, and seldom miss.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Three gorgeous chicks on motorcycles (see Fan Service above) show up to have some fun with one of Feather's Mooks. When Keyes asks Jagger if he's dated any of them or if these women might be worth dating, even Jagger admits to him, "they are strictly business; you do not want to know these ladies socially." The women's idea of "fun" so terrifies the mook that he starts talking. Only problem is they kind of scare him a little too much, and the women are disappointed that their fun ends early.
  • Just for Pun: White Supremacist Feather introduces himself as "I'm Mr. Feather. You're probably thinking, light as a feather."
  • The Man Is Keeping Us Down: White supremacist Feather has had a scientist develop a race-targeted poison and is going to use it to commit genocide upon blacks.
  • Mooks: Lots of them available for use as cannon fodder by the heroes. Of course, all of the mooks are white.
  • More Dakka: After the three heroes each stop the mooks from poisoning the three water supplies, Jimmy meets Keyes and Jagger with a van delivered by cargo plane. Open the back and it's got more weapons and ammo than a good sized gun store.
  • Neck Snap: Keyes does it to a mook with his bare hands, and another using his feet.
  • N-Word Privileges: some of the (white) henchmen refer to blacks with the N-word, but, of course, they work for a white supremacist, what do you expect?
  • Sassy Black Woman: Wendy does not take shit from anyone, not even Feather, who is holding her hostage.
  • The Seventies: Leisure suits, huge afros, even bigger cars.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Keyes' first name really is Mister.

Crooked Cop: (looking at driver's license) Your name is Mister Keyes? What kind of a name is 'Mister'?
Keyes: My momma wanted me to get some respect.

  • Time Bomb: Feather is going to pollute the water supply of three American cities with an ethnically selective poison. They have to stop him before it's too late.
  • Title Drop: As noted in the above, Jimmy admits that this is the situation, Three the Hard Way: three men to stop three teams of mooks in three cities.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The three chicks on motorcycles (see Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique above) have been upstairs having "fun" with a captured mook for a long time, long enough for Jagger and Keyes to play a whole game of chess. All this time, no sound or indication has come out of the upstairs room. Mister Keyes is rather concerned, and wants to find out what's going on, and starts to go upstairs. Jagger tells him he'd better not go in there or they're apt to have "fun" with him, too. Keyes stops, then comes downstairs, deciding that it's better he wait, after all.
  • Torture Technician: The three chicks on motorcycles are going to have some fun with a mook (see Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique above) but have to leave the guy able to talk. Keyes notices that the last woman has a large shoulder bag. He asks her to tell him what's in it. She tells him, "Don't ask."
  • Villain Protagonist: Feather has had his scientist develop a chemical to commit genocide on black people, and plans to use it.