Hard Times (1975 film)
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Lawrence Gordon|
|Written by||Walter Hill (screenplay)
Bryan Gindoff (story & screenplay)
Bruce Henstell (story & screenplay)
|Music by||Barry De Vorzon|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||Roger Spottiswoode|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|October 8, 1975 (USA)|
|Budget||$2.7 million or $3.1 million|
|Box office||724,906 admissions (France)|
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.
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."
- 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.
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 at AIP, 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.
Hill wrote and directed for scale even though "the truth is, I would have paid them for the chance."
The idea for the movie was an original screenplay by Bryan Gindoff and Bruce Henstell called The Streetfighter. 
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."
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."
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. 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." Hill later said Bronson received "very close to a million" dollars for his role.
The film was shot on location in Louisiana. Hill says his cinematographer Philip Lathrop was incredibly useful during the shot:
Before we started I was in my office later at night and Lathrop came by, noted I wasn't in a good mood. "Anything wrong?" I had never done it, worried if I will make it look alright. He immediately said "Don't worry about that. We will make a film, make the shots. If you are having a problem we will make the shots. I can already tell you you are ahead of other directors." He said "Anything we shoot we will cut together." He said "The problem that you're going to have is making everybody getting along and you getting what you want." And he was of course 100 percent right. That is the problem with direction. Beyond my first or second film, I don't think I've ever had terrible dilemmas based upon resources, but shooting and figuring out how is not a problem, never was. The problems that you have are getting everybody to be on the same page.
Hill says that Bronson was more supportive to work with than Coburn:
[Bronson was a] very angry guy... Didn’t get along with a lot of people. The only reason I can tell you he and I got along well was he respected that I wrote the script. He liked the script. Also I didn't try to get close to him. Kept it very business-like. I think he liked that. Jimmy Coburn who everybody liked and got along well with, he and I did not get along well. I think he was not in a good mood about being in a movie with Charlie, it was second banana. He had been up there more, and his career was coming back a bit. I don't think he was wild about being second banana. But Charlie was a big star, perceived to be low rent. That was part of his anger... He thought there was a cosmic injustice when he was not a movie star at 35. He didn't get there till 45 or whatever... [However] When things had seemed to not be working well, or there was some impasse, Charlie would come down hard on my side. That was tipping point.
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.
The film was profitable and in 2009 Hill says he still received money from it.
"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."
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."
The movie established a template to which Hill often returned.
My heroes usually have a very talkative foil opposite them or reluctantly alongside them, such as Bruce Dern in The Driver, or Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs, or James Coburn in Hard Times. I like the kind of dialogue between people who have a mutual goal but very disparate appetites and needs, so that there's always a kind of friction that runs throughout the film. They don't like each other very much, and hopefully the movie supplies a reason for them to achieve a grudging kind of respect for each other.
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”.
"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.
- 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)
- Stanley, John (May 27, 2007). "Walter Hill's Dark visions". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
- How Larry Gordon Got His $100 Million Movie Deal RICHARD TURNER Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 Aug 1989: B1.
- Box office figures for Walter Hill films in France at Box Office Story
- New Film Gift From Linda Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Sep 1974: f18.
- McGilligan, Patrick (June 2004). "Walter Hill: Last Man Standing". Film International. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
- The Original Hard Time Hill, John. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 05 Sep 1976: j2.
- Jon Zelazny, 'Kicking Ass with Walter Hill', The Hollywood Interview, 8 Sept 2009
- "Interview with Walter Hill Chapter 4" Directors Guild of America accessed 12 July 2014
- John Patterson, "Walter Hill: a life in the fast lane", The Guardian, 18 July 2014 accessed 6 February 2015
- Kael, Pauline. “The Visceral Poetry of Pulp.” CSUN Cinematheque Notes: Hard Times, The Driver. 2005: 6-7
- *Ebert, Roger. Review at www.rogerebert.com
- Hard Times at the Internet Movie Database
- Hard Times at AllMovie
- Roger Ebert's original review of Hard Times