Judge Patrick Naugle has taken one too many blows to the head.
Boys will be boys.
It's the Depression era, and hard living Chaney (Charles Bronson, Once Upon a Time in the West) is a drifter who crosses paths with a fast talking gambler named Speed (James Coburn, Monsters, Inc.) who participates in pick-up fights, even though his last man in the ring got pummeled. Chaney makes a deal with Speed: use Chaney's life savings—all six dollars of it—and let Chaney loose in the ring with two-to-one odds. Chaney wins the fight, which sets up a new partnership between the two men. As they travel down to New Orleans, Speed and Chaney begin a shaky relationship that finds Chaney fighting for his life (and their money) as Speed attempts to keep them afloat…and alive.
James Coburn and Charles Bronson are two of cinema's greatest character actors. Actually, scratch that; they're two of cinema's greatest A-list actors, an impressive feat considering neither are what moviegoers would consider "traditionally handsome." By 1975, audiences knew Coburn from such movies as In Like Flint and The Great Escape (in which Bronsan also starred). Bronson was immensely popular as well, a steely eyed action star who had just come off the one-two punch of Breakheart Pass and, arguably, the movie he's most remembered for, 1974's vigilante hit Death Wish. First time director (and co-writer) Walter Hill (Streets of Fire) snagged both men for Hard Times, a straight forward rough-and-tumble fight picture that doesn't pull any punches (pun intended). What you see is what you get, and what you get is Charles Bronson squinting and knocking people down.
Hard Times is an entertaining though wholly insubstantial movie-going experience. There isn't much to it, except watching Bronson exchange blows while Coburn runs his mouth trying to drum up money for the bets. Character takes a backseat for well-choreographed fight sequences. The back story on each of the main players is sketchy at best. We never really learn very much about Brosnan's Chaney except that he's down on his luck and knows how to throw a mean punch. Coburn's Speed is a typical hustler, always trying to make the score that'll land him in a bed of gold. One of Hard Times's largest failings is that it never transcends its genre to become something special. It's amusing, entertaining, and rough-and-tumble—perfectly acceptable Saturday night popcorn fare—but in the end Hard Times isn't particularly memorable.
The supporting cast provides minimal impact. Cool Hand Luke's Strother Martin (always a welcome sight in any film) shows up as a shifty medical expert who helps bandage up broken fighters, while Bronson's real life wife, Jill Ireland (Death Wish 2), is his doe-eyed love interest Lucy. I wish the screenplay would have spent more time with these characters, especially Strother. The Depression era setting is possibly the most interesting aspect of the film, as the production designers and filmmakers were able to successfully recreate the 1930s with true aplomb. Costumes, cars, and sets all sport a wonderfully iconic look (even if it's sometimes hard to see James Coburn in the period). The fight choreography is remarkably well-executed, though there are moments when you can see the actors pulling their punches.
Twilight Time presents this Columbia Pictures catalog title with a limited 3,000 unit run, in 2.35:1/1080p high def widescreen. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural and clean the transfer for looked. While the detail is obviously not as crisp as recent films, this is a very attractive looking image with very solid colors and black levels. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track doesn't sound overly artificial. Though there are a few ambient and directional effects to be found here, it's mostly a front heavy mix. Also included are English subtitles. Bonus features include composer Barry De Vorzon's score as an isolated Dolby 2.0 track, and a theatrical trailer.
Hard Times won't go down as one of cinema's all-time greats. There isn't a lot of power behind its slick veneer and gruff fight sequences. However, this is the kind of movie that features a fight scene inside a chain-link fence, wrapped with barbed wire, within a rusty factory that looks like it needs one long tetanus shot. If that sounds like a fun time at the movies (and it does to me), Hard Times is gonna be right up your alley.
Right hook to the chops. TKO.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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