Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dalliance in the Dark

Some movies have a breathless, intangible, mystical re-watchability factor.

No matter how many times you've seen them, seeing them again is like reliving an important, pleasurable moment in your life.

These movies are as rare and precious as such moments.

1975's Hard Times, the directorial debut of Walter Hill, is a perfect film to me, one with a strong re-watchability factor.

Although it was justifiably praised at the time of its release for its expertly staged fight scenes and solid action sequences...

...it is its central protagonist, 'Cheney' (Charles Bronson), who holds the key to the film's power.

Cheney is a genuine man of honor who teams up with 'Speed' (James Coburn), a fight promoter, to make a little dough in Depression-ridden New Orleans.

Although Speed, a rascal by any name, attempts to take advantage of Cheney, even he develops a respect for the guy's integrity that can't help but enrich his own humanity.

Speed's partial transformation is one of the film's exquisite pleasures.

Bronson, one of the greatest, most charismatic "Quiet Men" to ever grace the silver screen, is electric as the humble bare knuckles fight champion whose morality is defined by direct, honest action.

He is a Hero in the purest sense. His ultimate victory, which is an act of utter selflessness, spares his opponents humiliation and leaves those fallen or standing with an example of a man who lived life on his own terms, but didn't trample or betray others in order to achieve that state of being. And while negotiating the sticky streets of a potential romance, he remains a "gentleman" while surrendering none of his integrity or personal power.

He is Walter Hill's version of Ayn Rand's 'Howard Rourke', the protagonist of The Fountainhead -- a man who can not be bought because his value is not measured in dollars.

The film's other immense pleasures, which begin with an amazing screenplay, are the terrific presence of Strother Martin as 'Poe' (a lovable Southern "hophead" named after the writer), the rich score of Barry De Vorzon, Philip H. Lathrop's stunning period photography, and the authentic New Orleans locations.

Hard Times, originally titled The Streetfighter, until Sonny Chiba's classic opened just weeks before this film's release...

...is one of cinema's true pleasures.

They say you can't go back. To your home. To the things of childhood. To a cherished lover who still fires a passion not dimmed by decades of separation. Or to a cinematic dalliance in the dark..

But sometimes you can. If only to revisit the breathless intangible.

***

Hard Times producer Lawrence Gordon also produced Die Hard, 48 Hours,
Rolling Thunder, The Warriors, Streets of Fire, Watchmen, and The Driver

Director Hill is behind many action classics such as The Warriors,
Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome,
48 Hours, Streets of Fire and The Long Riders.

3 comments:

  1. I'm a huge Bronson fan. This is one of my favorite films of his.

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  2. Me, too. I miss him so much.

    He was always exceptional.

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  3. I will definitely have to check this film out!

    ReplyDelete