Hard Times

Year 1975

Charles Bronson   as   Chaney
James Coburn   as Spencer "Speed" Weed  
Strother Martin as "Doctor" Poe
Michael McGuire as   Chick Gandil
Edward Walsh as   Pettibon
Bruce Glover as   Doty
Robert Tessier as   Jim Henry
Nick Dimitri as   Street
Jill Ireland as   Lucy Simpson
Director - Walter Hill
Screenwriters - Walter Hill
  - Bryan Gindoff
  - Bruce Henstell

Ah, The Great Depression, not the most recent and still current one. Those were Hard Times and everyone struggled to make enough to eat. Wanderer Chaney (Bronson) has decided to make his living as a bare knuckle fighter. It may not be honest or easy, but it pays better than, "changing tires at a bus station for two dollars a day."

This is an all guy film, make no mistake. It's about fighting, betting, what motivates men and at least one woman. It's not seedy, but it is the underbelly of society circa 1932 in New Orleans.

Before I get into the movie, let me say that there are different versions of this movie available. For years, only some pan and scan thing could be purchased. This movie isn't even worth watching in pan and scan. Get your hands on what's pictured above. That's Amazon Standard Identification Number B00GGMKSW6. Yeah, it's an Amazon number. But if you can find that cover on a non-Amazon DVD, then you'll probably get the widescreen version.

The widescreen version DVD is just that. It contains the movie and nothing else. No commentary and no trailer. Heck, there's not even a main menu. Pop in the DVD and it plays. But it's everything you'd expect for a DVD movie. It's a nice transfer.

That said, it's a transfer of what exactly? Even though there are over a half dozen fights in the movie, it's more about the personalities of the characters than the fighting. Nearly everyone in the movie is just doing their job.

Chaney can fight, but when he's not fighting he's not aggressive or money hungry. He just wants enough money to live on. He's actually a bit of a slacker. Speed (Coburn) is an annoying big-mouth who handles Chaney because Chaney says it's okay. Poe (Martin) is the doctor but is also a low keyed opium addict who's accepted his fate but is looking for divine forgiveness. To quote Poe, "Some are born to fail, others have it thrust upon them." Doty (Glover) is the no nonsense loan shark that stakes Speed. He also is just doing his job, taking no sadistic pleasure in his collection tactics. The fighters? They have personality but they also have a code of ethics that they abide by. They, too, are just doing their jobs. Lucy Simpson (Ireland) is also trying to get by the best way she knows how.

Everyone gets by the best way that they know how. There's no judging, only acceptance.

The movie is plausible. The characters are believable. The fights are credible. There's no false Hollywood staging. Take the fights. They look like fights. A winner isn't going to nearly lose for the sake of building that ol' Hollywood manufactured sense of tension. It's like watching real fighting. There's an ebb and flow, but it's not the "I'm at death's door but I'll still win" set-up. If a fighter's getting hammered, then he's going to lose.

I saw one comment somewhere about the viewer being disappointed in the last fight. This person felt that Chaney's adversary should have been a man mountain rather than a finesse fighter. This person has been brainwashed by Hollywood.

The last fight, between Chaney and Street (Dimitri), is a battle between brawn mixed with finesse and finesse mixed with brawn. When I first saw this movie in the theater, I had the same impression as the viewer who didn't like it. Seeing the rather skinny Dimitri as the final "boss" needed to thought through. But when you do take the time to think about it, it's a perfect last fight! Any other match-up would have been empty and sensationalistic.

Bronson, whose best acting is done with gestures and quips, is a near perfect laconic Chaney. He's also lean and well muscled and fast. Coburn has one of the most annoying roles I've seen him in. But he makes it work. Coburn can steal a scene with a flash of his horse teeth and he does steal them in Hard Times. Strother Martin? Why wasn't this man ever nominated for an Academy Award? (The Captain in Cool Hand Luke saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Or Joe McGrath in Slap Shot, "Owns! Owns" Or Coffer in The Wild Bunch, "Anyways these boys will start going ripe on us by tomorrow.") He's great here as Poe.

The weak link is Jill Ireland as the wife of a guy in jail. She's looking for a meal ticket. It's not a bad character and it's a believable character. But when every other actor in the movie is as convincing in their roles as they are, her inability to transform into the person she's depicting is just that much more obvious.

I won't give away the ending. It's not a nail biter, but it's well choreographed.

No nudity, some profanity, and Coburn blasphemes a bit. Chick flick potential is below average. This movie is almost mandatory viewing by all guys. But it's more of a parable than a sugar coated story. It is a believable parable, though, about the need to keep busy during "the in-betweens" of life. It isn't quite a work of art or the introduction of a new twist on a genre. Maybe you don't need to hunt it down, but definitely do not miss it if you have the chance to see it.

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