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Hard Times

Hard Times

If you aren't a Charles Bronson fan, then you probably have never been tempted to see one of his formulaic action films. You've also probably wondered why he enjoys a superstar status on an international level. But put aside your skepticism for a moment and consider Hard Times (1975), a Depression-era tale about a mysterious drifter who makes a living as a bare-knuckle streetfighter. The film is that rarity among Bronson's star vehicles; it's a suspenseful and tautly directed character study that cleverly exploits the actor's tight-lipped acting style to great advantage. Cast as an aging boxer, Bronson has never been more appealing. Despite his rough demeanor and inscrutable face, we are drawn to this underdog who reveals little about himself except through small gestures such as feeding a stray cat or giving money to an incurable drug addict. His character takes on mythic heroic qualities in Hard Times, bearing favorable comparison to the proud samurai warriors in the films of Akira Kurosawa.

Directed and scripted by Walter Hill, Hard Times was filmed on location in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana countryside. Stunt coordinator Max Kleven was responsible for the brutal, realistic boxing sequences and Charles Bronson, who was in peak shape at age 55, performed most, if not all, of his own stunts. In addition, the film sports an excellent supporting cast including James Coburn as Bronson's constantly hustling promoter, Strother Martin as a hophead doctor, Jill Ireland (Bronson's wife in real life) as a woman abandoned by her jailbird husband, and Robert Tessier as the most feared and powerful of Bronson's challengers (their final bare-knuckles bout, staged in an empty warehouse without a paying audience, is one of the film's highlights).

For some reason, Hard Times wasn't nearly as popular with Bronson fans as Death Wish (1974) or Breakheart Pass (1975), yet it's probably his best film and some critics thought so too. Pauline Kael wrote "Spacious, leisurely, and with elaborate period re-creations of New Orleans in the 30s, this first feature directed by Walter Hill is unusually effective pulp, perhaps even great pulp...Hill gets our hearts pounding in fear that our hero will be hurt or vanquished; the big fight sequence, with Bronson pitted against a boulder of flesh (Robert Tessier), makes you feel the way you did as a kid at the movies. You don't resent the film's grip on you, because Hill respects the loner-underdog myth."

Producer: Lawrence Gordon
Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Walter Hill, Bryan Gindoff, Bruce Henstell
Art Direction: Trevor Williams
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Costume Design: Jack Bear
Film Editing: Roger Spottiswoode
Original Music: Barry De Vorzon
Stunt Coordinator: Max Kleven
Principal Cast: Charles Bronson (Chaney), James Coburn (Speed), Jill Ireland (Lucy Simpson), Strother Martin (Poe), Margaret Blye (Gayleen Schoonover), Michael McGuire (Gandil), Robert Tessier (Jim Henry), Bruce Glover (Doty), Felice Orlandi (LeBeau), Frank McRae (Hammerman), Edward Walsh (Pettibon).

By Jeff Stafford



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