Hard Times (1975)

Hard Times (1975), directed by Walter Hill.

(A revision of an earlier review in honor of the Twilight Time Blu-ray).

Aka Street Fighter.

Brutal bare-knuckles boxing story set in depression-era New Orleans. It's more like brawling: no rules other than empty hands and don't hit a man when down. The men strip to the waist and fight in their street clothes.

Walter Hill's first picture; an auspicious beginning. No frills, bare bones, just an authentically sad and grimy 1930s look to everything.

Chaney (Charles Bronson) drifts into town, just looking for a way to make some money. Speed (James Coburn), a gambler and fight promoter, becomes his partner. He's not quite as smart as he thinks he is, or maybe it is just an attitude and gambling problem. He talks too much and at the wrong time. He never does figure Chaney out. Chaney has to ponder whether money really is everything before it is over.

Strother Martin is Poe, a fight "doctor". Two years of medical school and a weakness for opium. He has some great lines:


[Introducing the fighter] That's Chaney. He don't say much.

[Sadly, when some losing gamblers won't pay up] Somebody always shows up with a gun.

[Cautioning his partner in a tense situation] Steady on, Speed. These boys are not refined.

Jill Ireland, Bronson's real-life wife, is a tentative romantic interest. It can't last: she has a husband in prison and needs someone more reliable than Chaney for "right now".

It's hard to believe that Bronson is 54 years old in this picture. He still looks like he's made of iron, although the director said he was smoking and didn't have much wind. Some of his fans think this is his best film. He still has that laconic manner and immobile face, but somehow projects a deeply conflicted nature: proud and self-sufficient but lonely and without purpose.

Looking at his biography: Bronson started in the coal mines. In WW2 he was a B-29 tail gunner, flew 25 missions and had a Purple Heart.

I think real bare-knuckles boxing would produce much more blood. In England, Regency sportsmen called it "claret" and the fighters were covered head to toe.

Clint Eastwood played a bare-knuckles boxer in his two monkey movies made just after this: maybe inspired by it?

The original US DVD release was a flipper with 4:3 pan & scan on one side and widescreen (anamorphic, I'm told) on the other. The reissue was 4:3 pan & scan only. Isn't that infuriating? The original aspect ratio is 2.35:1 so cropping it to 1.33:1 is a crime. Rather than take the risk that the seller of a used disc might not be aware of the differences, I imported an anamorphic PAL region 2 version.

But the Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray obsoletes the DVDs now. Isolated score. Not a showpiece by current standards, but I'm very pleased with the image. Huge upgrade over the DVDs. Skin tones look a bit white to me, but apart from Frank McRae these are all pale people.

Also available on Amazon streaming but I don't know about the quality.