Judge Gordon Sullivan once had a bad experience with a hang crasher, er, hang glider.
Two action-packed films starring legendary tough guy James Cobur.n
Maybe it's just my inner twelve-year-old taking control, but when I see the titles The Last Hard Men and Sky Riders, I don't think it's going to be an Action Double Feature, especially when the taglines are "One of them is going to die hard" and "He'll try anything once…especially if it's impossible." Okay, maybe it's just me who thinks this all sounds like a weird '70s porn parody, but in reality Shout! Factory has resurrected a pair of mid-'70s action flicks, both of which star James Coburn. Fans of the actor or '70s era B-movie actioners will want to check these out.
In The Last Hard Men, Provo (James Coburn, Charade) is a criminal who was put in jail by Burgade (Charlton Heston, The Omega Man) years ago. Provo thinks that Burgade is responsible for his wife's death. When he escapes from prison, he goes after Burgade, kidnapping his daughter (Barbara Hershey, Black Swan). Burgade has long since retired, but he comes back for this one last job.
Sky Riders features Coburn as McCabe, the ex-husband of Ellen (Susannah York, A Man for All Seasons), who seems to be living the perfect life with her new husband and daughter. However, when she's kidnapped by a group of terrorists and taken to a remote mountain stronghold, the new husband has to enlist McCabe's help to get her back. McCabe's solution is to hire a gang of hang gliders to breach the mountain fortress.
By 1976, the Western as a genre was largely moribund. John Ford made his last great Western in 1967, Sergio Leone made his last Western in 1968, and Sam Peckinpah blew the doors off of everything with The Wild Bunch in 1969. Sure, there were some good Westerns in the 1970s, but for the most part audiences got formulaic oaters that kept telling the same stories of frontier revenge, sometimes mindlessly incorporating the new visual techniques of Leone or Peckinpah. That's pretty much exactly where The Last Hard Men finds itself. It's a pretty straightforward revenge plot with the "retired gunfighter" twist. The opening aims for big-sky visuals. and by the final confrontation, we're in super-slow-mo Peckinpah territory.
Yet for all that, The Last Hard Men is weirdly compelling. James Coburn is one of the most underrated actors in history as far as pure cinematic magnetisim goes. He simply owns every frame he's in, even when his character or lines aren't the best. He's well matched against Charlton Heston. I've never been a huge fan of Heston's acting, but he was always consistent. That level of professionalism shines through here. It also doesn't hurt that they're fighting over a young Barbara Hershey. The film is also blessedly short, emphatically not borrowing the increasingly epic lengths for Westerns that were popular in the preceding decade.
Sky Riders, on the other hand, doesn't have as much to recommend it. Coburn is his usual self, growling and hulking his way through the role, and the basic kidnapping plot is sound. However, it seems like everyone knows they're making an genre picture. More importantly, they know that no matter how good they are, every scene is going to be overshadowed by the title draw, the Sky Riders. I don't know if somebody saw a hang gliding show and then came up with the plot or vice versa, but the aerial scene are all that really distinguishes this mid-'70s action flick. Luckily, those aerial scenes are pretty impressive. These were the days before rampant CGI, so some of the scenes are pretty scary to watch. Though they are impressive, they can't quite save a film that feels just a little too generic otherwise.
Shout! Factory have put both these films on a single disc, and the results are surprisingly effective. The Last Hard Men looks the better of the two: the standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen print is in great shape and looks really good for its age. Detail is pretty strong, color saturation is spot on, and no authoring problems crop up. There are a few moments of softness throughout the picture, but that probably has more to do with the source than this transfer. Sky Riders looks about as good as The Last Hard Men, but it's a bit softer a bit more often. It doesn't significantly impact viewing, it just causes the film to look a bit older than it should. Both films get perfectly serviceable Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtracks. They both sound a little bit flat, but dialogue is easy to hear and is well mixed with the effects and music. For extras both films get their theatrical trailers, some TV spots, and a still gallery.
This is a pretty specialized release—likely only of interest to '70s action buffs and James Coburn fans—but Shout! Factory has given both The Last Hard Men and Sky Riders a solid treatment on DVD.
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Scales of Justice, The Last Hard Men
Perp Profile, The Last Hard Men
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Last Hard Men
• Photo Gallery
Scales of Justice, Sky Riders
Perp Profile, Sky Riders
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Sky Riders
• Photo Gallery
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