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hard-bitten

Hard Times (1975 film)

Hard Times is a 1975 film starring Charles Bronson as Chaney, a street fighter who travels to Louisiana during the Great Depression to make his living in illegal boxing matches. It is notable for being Walter Hill's directorial debut.

Characters

The main characters are:

  • 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 professional brought in to meet Chaney in the climactic fight.

Plot

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 follows one of the fight's organizers, the fast-talking Spencer "Speed" Weed (James Coburn). Chaney makes Speed an offer to set him up in a fight. Betting the few dollars he has on himself, Chaney defeats his opponent with a single punch.

This impresses Speed, who wants to become Chaney's manager. They travel to New Orleans, where Speed intends to enter Chaney against local fighters at long odds. Chaney decides to take things slow, telling Speed he needs to think about the offer first. Chaney moves into a low-rent apartment. At the local diner, he meets Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland), a lonely, hard-edged woman whose husband is in prison. They soon begin an uneasy affair.

Chaney agrees to Speed's plan, but only if he receives 60 percent of the winnings. He 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). A recovering opium addict, Poe needs the work and is relieved when Chaney accepts him as a member of the team.

Speed plans for Chaney to take on the city's undefeated street fighter Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), a bald, intimidating brawler bankrolled by the wealthy businessman Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire). Gandil suspects a setup, and insists Speed bet $3,000 up front before allowing Chaney to fight his man. Speed is forced to obtain a loan from local mobsters. Chaney takes on Henry and proves up to the task, knocking him out after a few minutes.

The hard-luck trio of Chaney, Speed and Poe celebrate their victory at the local juke joint, dancing and drinking with their girlfriends. Later, Speed decides to participate in a dice game, but gambles away his share of the winnings. The mobsters begin to stalk Speed, damaging his car at one point, because of the money he owes them.

Gandil makes Speed an offer for Chaney to fight for him. Speed is willing to make the deal because it will square his debts, but Chaney refuses. Speed and Chaney have a bitter argument. Speed needs the money, but Chaney will not work for Gandil and ends their business relationship. Later, Lucy breaks up with Chaney because of his emotional distance and lack of commitment.

Gandil decides to hire Street (Nick Dimitri), one of the nation's top street fighters from Chicago. He attempts to draw Chaney into a winner-take-all bout. When this fails, Gandil pays off Speed's debt to the mobsters 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 Street is in. Chaney is noncommittal, and tells Poe that he owes Speed nothing. Eventually, Chaney gives in and arrives at Gandil's warehouse where the fight will take place. Not only is he forced to fight for Speed's life, but risk all of his previous winnings. Street is his toughest opponent, but eventually Chaney gets the upper hand and wins the 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 won and walks back towards the railroad tracks. As he disappears into darkness, Speed says "He sure was something."

Analysis

Pauline Kael called the setting of Hard Times “elaborate period recreations that seem almost to be there for their own sake” (6). 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” (6).

References

  • Kael, Pauline. “The Visceral Poetry of Pulp.” CSUN Cinematheque Notes: Hard Times, The Driver. 2005: 6-7.

See also

External links

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