Hard Times is a 1975 film starring Charles Bronson as Chaney, a drifter who travels to Louisiana during the Great Depression and begins competing in illegal bare-knuckled boxing matches. The movie was Walter Hill's directorial debut.

Contents Edit

  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Cast
  • 3 Production
    • 3.1 Casting
    • 3.2 Production
  • 4 Release
  • 5 Critical Reception
  • 6 Trivia
  • 7 Cast
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

Plot[edit] Edit

Chaney (Charles Bronson), a mysterious, down-on-his luck drifter during the Great Depression, arrives in town in the boxcar of a freight train. He comes upon a bare-knuckled street fight run by gamblers. After the bout, he approaches one of the fight's organizers, the fast-talking "Speed" (James Coburn), and asks Speed to set up a fight. Betting his few dollars on himself, Chaney wins with a single punch.

Speed wants to become Chaney's manager. They travel to New Orleans, where Speed intends to enter Chaney against local fighters at long odds. Chaney takes a cheap sleeping room. At a diner, he meets Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland), a lonely woman whose husband is in prison. They begin an uneasy affair.

Chaney cautions Speed that he wants to make a little money to "fill a few in-betweens," and then move on. Speed recruits a cutman, the medical school dropout Poe (Strother Martin). An opium addict ("a dyed in the wool hophead") Poe is relieved when Chaney accepts him.

Speed plans for Chaney to take on the city's undefeated street fighter Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), an intimidating brawler bankrolled by wealthy businessman Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire). Gandil suspects a setup, so he insists Speed bet $3,000 up front. Speed is forced to obtain a loan from local mobsters. Chaney takes on Jim Henry and proves up to the task, knocking him out.

The trio of Chaney, Speed and Poe celebrate at a juke joint with their lady friends. Speed gets into a dice game and gambles away his share of the winnings. The mobsters stalk Speed because of the money he owes.

Gandil offers money so Chaney will fight for him. Speed is willing because it will square his debts, but Chaney refuses. He and Speed have a bitter argument. Lucy also splits with Chaney because of his emotional distance and lack of commitment.

Gandil decides to hire Street (Nick Dimitri), a black leather coat-wearing, top street fighter from Chicago. He fails to draw Chaney into a winner-take-all bout, so he pays off Speed's debt and takes him hostage. If there is no fight, Speed will be killed for the money he owes.

Poe visits Chaney at his apartment and tells him the trouble Speed is in. Chaney comes to Gandil's warehouse where the fight will take place. Not only is he forced to fight for Speed's life, but must risk all of his own winnings.

Street is his toughest opponent yet. The two knock each other down, but eventually Chaney gets the upper hand and wins a grueling bout. Speed's life is spared. True to his word, Chaney decides the time has come to move on. He gives Speed and Poe a generous amount of the money and walks alone towards the railroad tracks. As he disappears into darkness, Speed says, "He sure was something."

Cast[edit] Edit

  • Chaney (Charles Bronson) – a man of few words and no past, devoid of any permanent relationships and of limited financial means.
  • Spencer "Speed" Weed (James Coburn) – a gambler who manages Chaney.
  • Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland) – a married woman Chaney takes up with.
  • Poe (Strother Martin) – a medical school dropout who attends Chaney's cuts.
  • Jim Henry (Robert Tessier) – a feared street fighter.
  • Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire) – a wealthy businessman and rival to Speed who bankrolls Jim Henry.
  • Street (Nick Dimitri) – a street fighter brought in to meet Chaney in the climactic fight.

Production[edit] Edit

In the early 1970s Walter Hill had developed a strong reputation as a screenwriter, particularly of action films such as The Getaway. He was approached by Larry Gordon when the latter was head of production atAIP, who offered Hill the chance to direct one of his scripts. (AIP had recently done this with John Milius on Dillinger (1973)). Gordon subsequently moved over to Columbia, where he established a unit making low budget action films, and got funding for Hill's project; it was to be the first from Gordon's unit.[4]

Hill wrote and directed for scale even though "the truth is, I would have paid them for the chance."[5]

The idea for the movie was actually Larry Gordon's, developed from a contemporary newspaper article about streetfighting for money in San Pedro. Bryan Gindoff and Bruce Henstell wrote a screenplay, originally called The Streetfighter.[6]

Hill thought the project could become more "up market" if he made it more like a Western and set it in the past; Gordon was from New Orleans and suggested setting it in that city. Hill says the script incorporated elements of an earlier Western he had written, Lloyd Williams and his Brother. He wrote it in a style inspired by Alex Jacobs - "extremely spare, almost Haiku style. Both stage directions and dialogue."[5]

Hill wrote one draft, then rewrote it "five or six times before I finally got it. But I did get it and I knew it. I knew it was going to get an actor and get made."[5]

Casting[edit] Edit

Hill says he originally wrote the film intending to cast a younger actor, like Jan Michael Vincent, and that he wanted Warren Oates to play Coburn's role.[7] He remembers that Bronson "was in remarkable physical condition for a guy his age; I think he was about 52 at the time. He had excellent coordination, and a splendid build. His one problem was that he was a smoker, so he didn’t have a lot of stamina. I mean, he probably could have kicked anybody’s ass on that movie, but he couldn’t fight much longer than 30 or 40 seconds."[7] Hill later said Bronson received "very close to a million" dollars for his role.[2]

Production[edit] Edit

The film was shot on location in Louisiana. Hill says his cinematographer Philip Lathrop was incredibly useful during the shot:

Hill says that Bronson was more supportive to work with than Coburn:

Original cut of the movie was around two hours long. When it was cut down to around 90 minutes several fights scenes were deleted. Some stills however show some of the deleted fights.

Release[edit] Edit

The film was profitable and in 2009 Hill says he still received money from it.[7]

"It was the best deal I ever made," he recalled. "Got a career out of it. Picture was well received on the whole, made money. Got me off and going."[8]

However he never made another film with Bronson. "We had kind of a falling out over the film," the director said. "He thought I’d been a little too… how do I put this? Too draconian in my editing of his wife’s (Jill Ireland's) scenes."[7]

The movie established a template to which Hill often returned.

Critical Reception[edit] Edit

Pauline Kael called the setting of Hard Times “elaborate period recreations that seem almost to be there for their own sake”." The film is about the personalities of local street fighters and their agents; a group that has always been on the outskirts of society. On the other hand, setting the film in the Depression might have been a way for Hill to make Chaney a more sympathetic character. Kael explains, “Put [Charles Bronson] in modern clothes and he’s a hard-bitten tough guy, but with that cap on he’s one of the dispossessed—an honest man who’s known hunger”.[10]

Roger Ebert in his October 14, 1975 review of Hard Times in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "a powerful, brutal film containing a definitive Charles Bronson performance."[11]

Trivia[edit] Edit

"Chick" Gandil was the name of one of the eight Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball after the Black Sox Scandal when they were accused of conspiring with gamblers and deliberately losing the 1919 World Series.

Cast[edit] Edit

  • Charles Bronson as Chaney
  • James Coburn as Speed
  • Jill Ireland as Lucy Simpson
  • Strother Martin as Poe
  • Maggie Blye as Gayleen Schoonover
  • Michael McGuire as Gandil
  • Felice Orlandi as Le Beau
  • Edward Walsh as Pettibon
  • Bruce Glover as Doty
  • Robert Tessier as Jim Henry
  • Nick Dimitri as Street
  • Frank McRae as Hammerman
  • Maurice Kowalewski as Lucy Simpson
  • Naomi Stevens as Madam
  • Lyla Hay Owen as Waitress
  • John Creamer as Apartment Manager
  • Robert Castleberry as Counterman
  • Becky Allen as Poe's Date
  • Joan Kleven as Carol
  • Anne Welsch as Secretary
  • Fred Lerner as Caesare's Hitter
  • Jimmy Nickerson as Barge Fighter
  • Charles Hicks as Speed's Hitter
  • Walter Scott as Poolplayer
  • Max Kleven as Poolplayer
  • Valerian Smith as Handler
  • Bob Minor as Zack
  • Larry Martindale as Driver
  • Charles W. Schaefer Jr. as Card Player
  • Leslie Bonano as Card Player
  • Ronnie Philips as Cajun Fighter
  • Greater Liberty Baptist Church Choir And Congregation
  • Brion James (uncredited)
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