Trailer for Hard Contract
|Directed by||S. Lee Pogostin|
|Produced by||Marvin Schwartz|
|Written by||S. Lee Pogostin|
|Music by||Alex North|
|Edited by||Harry W. Gerstad|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|April 30, 1969|
|Box office||$1,750,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
CIA assassin John Cunningham (James Coburn), a cold-blooded killer with nerves of steel and no conscience, kills a man on election day, votes in the local election and spends the rest of the afternoon with Ellen (Karen Black), a prostitute. The next day, Cunningham goes to see James Ramsey (Burgess Meredith), his mobilizer, a CIA man whose cover is a job as a college physics professor.
Ramsey offers one final, lucrative job, or "hard contract" as he calls it, that can allow Cunningham to retire from the business for good. This consists of three hits, two in Spain and Belgium, with the last victim to be revealed after the first two are dispatched.
On his way to Spain to make the first hit, Cunningham meets two women who will change his life: American tourist and jet setter Sheila Metcalfe (Lee Remick), and her naive but good-hearted friend, socialite Adrianne (Lilli Palmer).
He does kill the first two victims, but later, as remorse slowly takes hold over him, Cunningham can't bring himself to knock off his third target, former top CIA hit-man Michael Carson (Sterling Hayden). A more vicious and effective hit-man in his day than Cunningham is now, Carson has become so passive, he wouldn't even defend himself.
Ramsey flies to Spain to persuade Cunningham to complete the job, and promises Cunningham that if he does not do so, he will himself be killed, and so will Sheila. Cunningham drives Ramsey, Sheila, Carson, and everyone else who knows about him back down a mountain, and is close to deliberately causing a car crash that would free him for all time, only to relent at the last moment, telling a confused Ramsey afterwards that murder is obsolete. Ramsey is then romanced by Adrianne, much to his bemusement, and it's unclear if he has also weakened in his resolve.
The ending is enigmatic, with Cunningham and Sheila running off together and beginning to make love, as Cunningham tells her that the worst deeds can be done for the best motives. The final image of them narrows to a circle around their heads, reminiscent of the image one would see in a rifle scope.
- James Coburn as John Cunningham
- Lee Remick as Sheila Metcalfe
- Lilli Palmer as Adrianne
- Burgess Meredith as Ramsey Williams
- Patrick Magee as Alexi
- Sterling Hayden as Michael Carlson
- Claude Dauphin as Maurice
- Helen Cherry as Evelyn Carlson
- Karen Black as Ellen
- Sabine Sun as Belgian Prostitute
- Jo Nupie as Flemish lady
- Miquel Bordoy
- Gerda Marchand
- Vic Moeremans
Producer Martin Schwartz approached Pogostin, an award-winning TV writer, to see if he was interested in adaptating a story for the screen. Pogostin instead pitched Hard Contract and Schwartz was enthusiastic. Pogostin insisted on directing. Schwartz financed the writing of the script over 15 months.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p255
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p231
- "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
- Director and Producer Do the Possible Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 Apr 1969: h1.