Blu-ray & DVD: Hard Times (1975)
Arriving alone in the depression hit New Orleans of 1933 with just $6 to his name, Chaney (Charles Bronson) has only his wits and his fists to get him through each day. When spotted by the quick talking Speed (James Coburn) during Chaney’s first bare knuckle fight in the city, he immediately offers to manage Chaney and make them both big money. Unfortunately, Speed has a tendency to run his mouth off quicker than Chaney throws punches, and this combined with Speed’s gambling habits gets them into a fight not just for prize money, but for ultimate survival.
The directorial debut of Walter Hill sets an early high standard for some of the well received action orientated movies that he would make in later years (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Trespass), albeit at a slower more considered pace that highlights the characterisation and performance of the lead actors.
Charles Bronson is perfectly cast as an ageing bare knuckle fighter who lives life day by day. Still looking physically impressive at 54 years old while stripped to the waist, his chiselled features and steely stare all go to accentuate that this is not a man to be taken lightly. The slow and considered delivery of his lines (all in that fantastic gravelly voice) belie his quick thinking and even quicker fists. This is a man who has little to lose and cares less for what he can win. This is a man you most definitely don’t want to get into a fight with.
James Coburn once again gives what seems like an effortless performance as the sharp tongued and effervescent fight manager Speed. The ‘Yang’ to Chaney’s ‘Yin’, Coburn spits out his lines with enough venom that they hit their adversaries just as hard as the physical punches from Chaney. Diametrically opposed both in their way of life and personalities, the two form a bond that, while cracks DO appear during the course of their story, the emotional attachment becomes much more than their initial financial agreement.
As always there has to be a little love interest somewhere along the way, and Chaney becomes involved with local woman Lucy Simpson (played by Bronson’s real life wife Jill Ireland). The paring of Bronson and Ireland was not uncommon and their natural relationship with each other shines through on the screen. Chaney however is a lifelong loner and drifter, and even the attention of a beautiful woman doesn’t detract him from why he’s in the city.
Special mention also has to go to Strother Martin who is hired by Speed as Chaney’s cut man; Poe. Not being able to complete his medical training due to an increasing drug addiction, Poe may not be the best qualified but is reliable and loyal. While not on screen as long as the other main actors, Strother’s personality shines through in each scene that he is in, evoking both compassion for his characters current plight in life, and also some humour as Poe is caught in the middle of the verbal sparring between Speed and Chaney.
Hard Times tells a simple story in genuinely engaging way. The cinematography and New Orleans locations are constantly breathtaking in their depiction of depression era America, while the performances are superb throughout the entire cast. Here is a movie that has no need for special effects or the reliance of a soundtrack to tempt you to buy the accompanying album, this is a movie that puts you into the middle of a mans life and lets you accompany him in just one chapter of his story.
While often mistaken as ‘just a fight film’ (it was called ‘The Streetfighter’ upon its release on VHS in the UK) this is a character piece where emotions, for both the viewer and the characters, are hit just as hard as the fighters are in the bloody brawls.
Once again Eureka Entertainment release another classic under their Masters of Cinema series, and as well as superb picture and sound, has special features that flesh out the story even more.
- New 4K restoration
- Uncompressed PCM and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired
- A new interview with producer Lawrence Gordon
- A new interview with composer Barry DeVorzon
- NFT Audio Interview with director Walter Hill
- Original theatrical trailer
- PLUS: A booklet featuring new and archival writing
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Eureka Entertainment.