Royce, he suddenly has to run for his life as two cars converge on him; his evasive moves force them to swerve and crash through the garage wall, plunging headlong in flames to the street several stories below.
In Chicago, public relations executive and ladies' man Jagger Daniels (FRED WILLIAMSON) arrives at his office to find old friend Jimmy Lait waiting to ask his help. The two walk outside where more assailants immediately attempt to push Jimmy under an oncoming train. Jagger saves his friend by pushing one of the troopers himself under the train. They then take off after the other would-be assassin who seeks refuge with friends waiting in a nearby penny arcade. A resultant shoot-out leaves Jagger and Jimmy standing triumphantly over a body-strewn floor.
In New York, a handful of crooked cops tries to force a pay-off from successful karate sbhool owner and international karate champion Mister Keyes (JIM KELLY) by planting heroin bags in his custom Lincoln Continental. With deadly skills, Keyes takes care of the cops in short order; he turns to find old friends Jimmy and Jagger watching amusedly from a distance.
While filling in Mister Keyes on the puzzling, murderous events, Keep and a carload of his men are spotted nearby. The trio ambushes them in a car wash; Jimmy is subsequently wounded but Keep is captured by Keyes and Jagger.
The prisoner is taken to Keyes' apartment where beautiful female "specialists" brought in by Jagger wring a partial confession from him. Learning that Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Detroit will be the first targets for some sort of maniacal plot against the Black race, the men fan out to these cities to seek further information.
At the organization compound, Wendy is being kept alive as a potential hostage. She meets the leader of the mysterious group, Monroe Feather (JAY ROBINSON), his associate Eva (MARIAN COLLIER), and the obsessed scientist Dr. Fortrero (RICHARD ANGAROLA). Dr. Fortrero has developed a culture similar to sickle-cell anemia which, when poured into city water supplies, will theoretically kill only Blacks. Wendy learns that their aim is genocide.
In Los Angeles, Jimmy Lait is lured into a phone booth to answer a promised call from Wendy. While he is trying to hear her voice, a truck flattens the booth. Unknown to the drivers, Jimmy barely escapes death by climbing on top of the truck where he overhears their plan to poison the water works. After managing to destroy the truck and its occupants, he calls Jagger in Detroit and Mister Keyes in Washington, D.C. with the completed information. "The Three" go Into action.
Jagger ambushes the troopers sent to poison the DetroIt water supply at Lake St. Claire and escapes with the attache case containing the vial of lethal formula. Mister Keyes and Urtk (DAVID CHOW), manager of Keyes' karate school, swoop down on the team of troopers inside the Washington, D.C. water plant and demolish them.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and musician friend Charley (CHARLES McGREGOR), after another encounter with the obstinate Lt. Di Nisco, rush to intercept Feather's troopers at the L.A. reservoir. Charley is killed while trying to save Jimmy's life but the latter overpowers the troopers and forces the lone survivor to reveal the location of the compound headquarters.
"The Three" converge at an airport near the compound and devise a full commando-style raid. Celebrating the assumed completion of the first stage of their fanatical plans, Feather and his accomplices are overcome by the surprise attack. Jimmy and Jagger intercept escaping mastermind Monroe Feather and his guards, blasting their jeeps into oblivion. Wendy is rescued and the compound demolished amidst a furious display of lethal talents.
Now safely re-united, Jimmy, Jagger, Keyes and Wendy return to Jimmy's palatial estate in Los Angeles. In the hopes that it will not be another mad dream of history which brings them together again, they bid goodbye.
PRODUCTION NOTES for Three the Hard Way
Ninety-nine per cent of Three the Hard Way was shot on location, making for a richer, more authentic picture, but also for difficult and unpredictable filmmaking. The services of "Cinemobile" mitigated the problems substantially; watching men unload piles of necessary equipment from one of their specially fitted buses was like witnessing a giant jigsaw puzzle putting itself together.
The stars of Three the Hard Way reside, in the film, in three different cities, and shooting encompassed a whirlwind tour of locations in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. In Chicago, home base for the Fred Williamson character, the audience recognizes such landmarks as the Civic Center, the famed La Salle and Van Buren El Station, the Marina City Towers and the Chicago River. Mister Keyes, the Jim Kelly character, has his main karate studio in New York City, where the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, F.D.R. Drive and midtown Manhattan may be spotted. In Washington, D.C., the locations are National Airport, Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Washington and Lincoln Monuments and parts of downtown Washington.
However, the majority of Three the Hard Way was shot on locations around Los Angeles, Jim Brown's area. A series of glamorous settings along Sunset Strip and in Beverly Hills were used, including the famous Playboy Penthouse (a fitting locale for the likes of dashing bachelors Brown and Williamson) and the luxurious Elizabeth Arden Salon.
The first distant location, and site of what was to be one of many furious gun battles waged in the film, was the Norris Arcades in Long Beach. There, more action than the winter-stilled arcade had seen in months took place, and probably more than any shooting gallery had ever seen.
The most fascinating but also most annoying location was the Hypernion Treatment Plant in Playa Del Rey - a site chosen for its ideal representation of the water works system of a major city. There, international karate champion Jim Kelly and his friend David Chow tangle with and defeat troopers sent to poison the water supply of Washington, D.C. It was the cast and crew's first chance to watch Kelly in action, but because of the noise in the gigantic generator room, everyone had to wear wax earplugs and (a further irritation) intermittently leave the building.
Outside the plant, where some of the car chases were being filmed, the situation wasn't much better. During one of the high-speed segments, the over-loaded camera car burst two tires; Fred Williamson, who insisted on doing his own driving, crashed into it. Fortunately, no one was injured.
The final weeks of filming took place at the beautiful Malibu Lake Mountain Club in the Malibu Mountains, It served as the compound headquarters for the radical organization against which the three heroes fight. Leading lady Sheila Frazier and arch-villain Monroe Feather (Jay Robinson), head of the organization, filmed all their scenes there during the day. However, the spectacular finale of the film, an attack staged by the three stars, takes place at night; for it, the crew had to shoot into the wee hours of the morning.